A fundamental requirement of any democracy is the honesty, integrity and accountability of its politicians. This is why in 1995 the Seven Principles of Public Life (the Nolan Principles) were introduced. Since then many other rules, codes of conduct, and laws have been put in place which aim to keep MPs and local councillors on the straight and narrow. But sadly a growing number of politicians, such as Prime Minster Boris Johnson, do not believe that these rules apply to them.
Lack of integrity and honesty is not, however, the monopoly of Conservative politicians. Here in Thanet we have, what I believe to be, one of worst examples of political impropriety in recent local government history. It involves two Labour councillors. One of whom is a former leader of Thanet council, “Raging” Rick Everitt and his partner Corina Huxley
I originally published claims about, what I believed to be, Everitt and Huxley’s dishonesty two years ago, but to no avail. This is why I am writing about the matter again, because in my view the disreputable duo are, despite my previous warnings, continuing to knowingly and recklessly breach the rules and regulations governing the conduct of local councillors.
It’s a long read. So long that I have divided my story into two parts. But, if like me, you prefer your politics clean, honest, and free from the sewer of impropriety then I’m sure my story will interest you. Please read on.
On 10 February 2022 Thanet District Council (TDC) voted unanimously to approve the councils budget for 2022-23. The minutes of the meeting show that no declarations of interest were made, and that all those present, including Labour councillor “Raging” Rick Everitt and his partner, councillor Corina Huxley, voted in favour of the budget.
Page 79, paragraph 5.7 of the budget report which was approved by councillors said that “Despite the relatively healthy looking balance of our earmarked reserves, much of these are fully committed to specific projects, purposes or risks (e.g. £2m is committed to part fund Thanet Parkway)”
Following their election to the council in May 2019, Everitt and Huxley listed in their councillor register of interests their home at 20 Chapman Fields, Cliffsend. According to Everitt this property is located “five to ten minutes’ walk” from the site of the new Parkway Station. The station is scheduled open later this year.
It’s generally accepted that residential property in the vicinity of a railway, or underground, station benefits from an uplift in its value. Countless expert studies from the UK and across the world demonstrate this to be true.
The Thanet Parkway Station Business Case published by Kent County Council in 2019 is no exception, saying that “it is anticipated that properties within Cliffsend village will experience an increase in property value due to their proximity to rail services”.
Kent estate agents, Regal, support this claim saying in a recent website post that “projects such as this (Parkway Station – my insertion) usually bring in a surge of buyers and the increase in demand is likely to generate uplifts in property value in all areas within around three miles of the station. Current home sellers are advised to ensure their agents fully exploit the benefits of the Thanet Parkway station in their marketing - and buyers looking in this area now should be pretty comfortable that their investment is sound and is likely to grow at above average rates”.
According to the Kent online website between June 2020 and June 2021 average house prices in Thanet grew by 6.4%. Assuming that average prices remain the same for the 21-22 period and allowing for the fact that property near to a station is likely to grow at above average rates, I believe it would be fair to say that houses in Cliffsend, especially those in close proximity to Parkway Station, such as Everitt and Huxley’s, are likely to see a 10% increase in value.
At the time of writing, the property website Zoopola valued Everitt and Huxley’s home at £1.157 million. So applying my estimated 10% Parkway premium the councillors look set to see a £115,000 increase in the value of their home.
I am not a property valuer or an estate agent and emphasise that this is only an estimate. However, there is little doubt in my mind that the construction of Thanet Parkway Station at a distance of five to ten minutes’ walk from Everitt and Huxley’s home, will significantly increase its value.
I am very concerned that Everitt and Huxley voted for a budget which they must have known included a £2million investment in the construction of Parkway station. An investment which is likely to lead to a significant, six-figure, increase in the value of their home.
Most reasonable people, myself included, would believe that two councillors had a huge conflict of interest in the budget decision and should have followed the rules declared this conflict and refrained from voting. But they didn’t.
Rules Of Conflict
The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines a conflict of interest in the public sector as being a situation in which “the official’s (or politician’s ) private-capacity interest could improperly influence the performance of their official duties and responsibilities”.
The Seven Principles of Public Life provide under the headings selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership advice to politicians about how to behave.
Of particular relevance to Everitt and Huxley and their conflict of interest is the principle of integrity which says that politicians must “not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships
The Localism Act 2011, which is based upon the Seven Principles of Public Life requires all councillors to enter into a register any disclosable pecuniary interests. These interests including property ownership, employment, etc.
If during the course of their duties a councillor attends a meeting which discusses or votes on any matter which might have an impact upon his/her registered pecuniary interest, such as the investment of public money in the construction of a railway station which is likely to effect the value of the councillors property, the councillor must: declare that interest and not take part in any discussion or vote related to it. Failure to follow these rules is a criminal offence.
Thanet Council has its own code of conduct which is based upon the Localism Act 2011 and the Seven Principles of Public Life. With regard to councillors with conflicts interest the code says “Where you are present at a meeting and have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest or a Significant Interest (and you are aware that you have such an interest) in any matter to be considered, or being considered, at the Meeting, you must:
(a) disclose the Interest; and
(b) explain the nature of that Interest at the commencement of that consideration or when the Interest becomes apparent (subject to paragraph 6, below); and unless you have been granted a dispensation:
(c) not participate in any discussion of, or vote taken on, the matter at the
(d) withdraw from the Meeting room in accordance with the Authority’s Procedure Rules whenever it becomes apparent that the business is being considered; and
(e) not seek improperly to influence a decision about that business.
Last but not least, the Labour Party Rule Book says that its councillors must “uphold the highest standards of probity and integrity” and must “abide by any codes of conduct as may be agreed by the local authority from time to time”.
Most importantly the Labour’s rules also say “Labour councillors must at all times avoid not only wrong-doing but also the perception of wrong-doing. Therefore if there is any uncertainty regarding whether a declaration of interest is appropriate, Labour councillors must take the most open course of action and declare an interest or disclose all relevant circumstances”
It couldn’t be clearer. The Seven Principle of Public Life, The Localism Act 2011, Thanet Council’s councillor code of conduct, and rules of the Labour Party, of which both Everitt and Huxley and are members, all required the duo to have declared their interest in the item about TDCs budget at the meeting on 10 February 2022, and to have also left meeting whilst it was being discussed and to have refrained But they didn’t
Multiple breaches of the rules
The meeting on the 22 February 2022 wasn’t the first time Everitt and Huxley failed to follow the rules about the declaration of their pecuniary interest in Thanet Parkway station.
I have discovered that between 14 January 2020 and 10 February 2022 Everitt took part in 11 public meetings which discussed and approved matters relating to Thanet Parkway Station. The official minutes of these meetings show that on each of the 11 occasions he did not declare his interest, nor did he leave the meeting when the Parkway related matters were discussed and that on each occasion he voted to approve the item. In fact at 4 of the 11 meetings, Everitt was actually the chair of the meeting!
To be fair to councillor Huxley she fared a little better. Between 14 January 2020 and 10 February 2022 she attended 6 public meetings which discussed and approved matters relating to Thanet Parkway Station. But like her partner Everitt she did not declare an interest, nor did he leave the meeting when the Parkway related matters were discussed and nor did refrain from voting to approve and approved.
To be fair to Everitt and Huxley there may be good reasons why they embarked upon what appears to be a sustained campaign of rule breaking and dishonesty.
First they may be ignorant and not aware of the requirements of the Seven Principles of Public Life, The Localism Act 2011, Thanet Council’s councillor code of conduct, and the rules of the Labour Party to which they belong.
But this doesn’t stand up. Both are Labour councillors of longstanding. Prior to their move to Thanet they were councillors in Bexley for several years and they have both been councillors in Thanet for 6 years. In that time they would have received training about the need to register and declare their interest and to refrain from discussing and voting upon items of council business which impacted upon these interests.
In fact just days after being re-elected to the council in May 2019, TDC hosted a series of councillor training sessions for the successful candidates. One one of sessions was about the councillor code of conduct. The council’s Democratic Services team has confirmed to me that Everitt and Huxley were at this training session.
Second, a councillor can sometimes obtain from the council’s Monitoring Officer what is called a “dispensation”. The dispensation permits a councillor to fully participate in, and vote at , meetings where items in which he/she have an interest are being discussed.
The granting of dispensations is however very rare and is only allowed in extraordinary circumstances defined by law. Any dispensation must be declared by the councillor at the beginning of the meeting and it must be recorded in the minutes.
I have checked the minutes of all the relevant meetings and can find no reference to Everitt or Huxley having being granted dispensations. I have also written to the council’s Deputy Monitoring Officer who has confirmed to me that no dispensations have been granted to Everitt or Huxley.
Third, all councillors have a legal dispensation allowing them to vote on the council tax, because it is “a decision affecting the generality of the public in the area of your council, rather than you as an individual. It could therefore be argued that Parkway station confers a “general” property value uplift for the 2,000 or so homeowners owners living in Cliffsend.
However, Government guidance to councillors clearly discounts this argument stating that the because council tax does not “materially affect your interest in the land. For example, it does not materially affect the value of your home, your prospects of selling that home, or how you might use or enjoy that land”. Whereas decisions related to the construction of Parkway station clearly will have such impacts.
Fourth it could be possible to argue that you acted upon poor
advice provided by the council’s Monitoring Officer. Once again this excuse lacks credibility. The registrations of interests and their declaration at meeting are a personal responsibility.
Whilst is always good to take advice about managing their interests, a councillor must consider that advice in association with the Seven Principles of Public Life, the Localism Act 2011a and TDCs councillor code of conduct. The G
overnment has also published and excellent booklet Openness and transparency on personal Interests: A guide for councillors as have many other organisations. To simply follow a single piece of advice, which might be wrong, rather than looking at the whole picture, would be considered to be a foolhardy and irresponsible approach for a public figure such as a councillor take.
I doubt that Everitt and Huxley can offer up a remotely credible explanation as to why, on 17 separate occasions over the past 2 years, they voted in favour of decisions to support the construction of Parkway Station which, by the consequential increase in the value of their property, would personally enrich them to the tune of an estimated £115,000.
In my opinion the disreputable duo have acted dishonestly and without integrity and have brought the office of councillor into disrepute.
Right of reply
I contacted Everitt and Huxley and advised them that I was writing this article. I offered them the opportunity to put their side of the story but they did not reply.
More to come
In the next week or so I will be making more revelations about “Raging” Rick Everitt and his involvement with Parkway Station in part of this story.