York council investigation latest: Police called in

The entrance to City of York Council's West Offices. Photograph: Richard McDougall
1 Sep 2017 @ 5.49 pm
| News

The shock suspension of two York councillors took another twist today as it emerged police have been called in to the case.

Cllr Keith Aspden
YorkMix was the first to reveal that two senior councillors had been told to stand down from the executive by leader Cllr David Carr on Wednesday (August 30).

The two Liberal Democrats – deputy leader Cllr Keith Aspden and member for culture, leisure and tourism Cllr Nigel Ayre – were stripped of their cabinet responsibilities by the Tory leader.

He said they had to stand aside while the council standards committee investigated possible breaches of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct. They faced ‘serious’ allegations, said Cllr Carr.

Detectives involved

Cllr Nigel Ayre
Today (Friday) it emerged that North Yorkshire Police had become involved. A spokesman for the force said:

North Yorkshire Police has received information regarding this matter which is currently being assessed.

The force is stressing that this assessment does not constitute a criminal investigation.

At this stage it is intended to establish whether a criminal offence has taken place.

No details have yet been released about the allegations levelled at Cllr Aspden or Cllr Ayre.

Cllr Aspden also held the economic development and community engagement portfolio as well as being deputy leader.

Coalition in peril?

Former council leader Andrew Waller

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have shared roles on the executive since forming a coalition following elections in May 2015.

But on Thursday night most Lib Dem councillors boycotted the executive. One of them was Andrew Waller, the former council leader who now holds the environment portfolio.

Did he have any idea that the suspensions were imminent? “I was very surprised by it,” he said.

It is far from the first time that councillors have had allegations levelled against them that were then assessed by the standards committee.

But previously no one involved in that process had been ordered to step down from the executive.

Cllr Waller told YorkMix: “That’s why this is exceptional – to have removed people from post, when equivalent investigations in the past have not.”

“As a former leader, I find the way in which the process has been applied is so exceptional that until I get clarification on what has gone on, why, and the process by which an administration could continue, then it meant I didn’t go to the executive last night.”

‘A serious impact on working relations’

The council chamber at York Guildhall. Photograph: City of York Council

And he didn’t rule out a boycott of future meetings.

“There is council business that most certainly has to be done on behalf of residents,” Cllr Waller said. “And that will continue.

“Joint meetings with the other party – we will need to establish how that will work going forward.”

He said he had asked to meet senior officers “to go through the mechanics of how things would work going forward – and they declined to meet me.”

Can the coalition survive this?

“It has had a serious impact on working relations,” he said. “I find this exceptional, and the lines of communication have not been good.”