Councillor faces standards panel in row over rough sleeper numbers

A Conservative councillor who repeatedly questioned the official number of rough sleepers on the  streets of Brighton and Hove faces a standards panel.

Wish ward councillor Robert Nemeth is due to face the panel next Monday (21 September) after a complaint by Labour councillor Daniel Yates about social media posts made in March last year.

Councillor Yates made the complaint about a post Councillor Nemeth made under a link to a news article on the Brighton and Hove News Facebook page.

The article referred to an audit of rough sleeper figures going before the city council’s Audit and Standards Committee.

In his post Councillor Nemeth wrote: “All councillors know that the figures are fake.

“I’m surprised that the administration is prolonging this story by trying to keep up the deception.”

The matter is listed for hearing before a panel of three members of Brighton and Hove City Council, one from each party, along with independent panel member Helen Aston.

They are being asked to decide whether Councillor Nemeth failed to comply with the code of conduct for members.

The evidence going before the panel includes a letter to the council’s chief executive Geoff Raw and the then chair of the Audit and Standards Committee, Conservative councillor Joe Miller, from Councillor Nemeth.

It was co-signed by two fellow Conservatives – Councillor Mary Mears and former councillor Nick Taylor – and called for an investigation into rough sleeper numbers.

The letter said that the council had claimed a big fall in the number of rough sleepers.

But the letter said: “If the number of rough sleepers on a given date in November had fallen from 178 in 2017 to 64 in 2018, we would be delighted.

“However, the data comes from two different collection methods which cannot be compared.”

In 2017, the council estimated numbers, while in 2018 a headcount was carried out on a cold night during snow, in line with other councils across the country.

An internal audit carried out in February 2019 found that the statistics presented were based on “reliable and relevant data”.

Councillor Yates raised the matter with the council’s executive lead officer for strategy, governance and law, Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis.

The former Labour leader wrote: “By stating that the figures are ‘made up’, Councillor Nemeth is bringing the officers’ integrity and professionalism into disrepute.

“He also is bringing this council and his role into disrepute.”

Councillor Yates asked for a written letter retracting the statement and offering an apology.

A report to the panel by council lawyer Victoria Simpson included details of an interview with rough sleeping campaigner Jim Deans.

He agreed with Councillor Nemeth that the figures were “fake” as they were an “inaccurate representation of the situation on the relevant night”.

The report said that Mr Deans considered the term “fake” to mean the same as “inaccurate” or “incorrect”.

The report to the panel said: “It was considered on balance to be more likely than not that the term ‘fake’ would create an impression in readers’ minds that falsified figures were being used by the administration.

“This interpretation was considered to be reinforced by the reference in the online comment which immediately followed to ‘a deception’: a term associated with conduct involving active duplicity.”

Councillor Nemeth stood by his comments and described the action against him as “vexatious”.

Ms Simpson’s report said that there were two “substantive breaches” of the council’s code of conduct, as the post on Brighton and Hove New’s Facebook page would bring the “subject member’s office of councillor and the authority itself into disrepute”.

In her view, Councillor Nemeth’s refusal to provide his version of events or engage with the investigation was also a breach of the code.

The panel hearing is due to be webcast on the council website from 10am on next Monday (21 September).

  1. Greens Out Reply

    This council (and the previous) actually have a code of conduct????

    Now that has GOT to be fake.

    As for ‘bringing the authority into disrepute’ well they’re pretty good at doing that themselves.

  2. Nathan Adler Reply

    So a comment on social media is to be investigated questioning the amount of rough sleepers? I presume audits and standards is also going too investigate the potentially racist/ anti semetic comments on social media by Labour (at the time) Councilors? If not this reeks of political game play.

  3. Chris Reply

    The most recent date quoted is February 2019 , hasn’t the council got anything better to do than stir up old matters? The chances of anybody getting a truly accurate figure would seem pretty slim anyway. Having been into town today, for the first time this year, there are a few sleeping bags along Western Road rather than the numbers last year but the place still looks scruffy and uncared for.

  4. Rolivan Reply

    Could Cllr Yates please tell us why Officers have allowed £10s of millions of Council Taxpayers money to be mismanaged and extorted in some cases without recourse and often being told that the cost of recouping money would be too expensive.
    Cllrs are under guidance from Officers who have all of the power and remain unaccountable for their many mistakes and if the going gets too tough they just move on taking even more money with them.

    • Nigel Furness Reply

      Rolivan is right!
      But there’s a bigger picture here for all this nonsense of ‘Standards Boards’ and unaccountable officers stems from our nation’s former membership of that EVIL EMPIRE otherwise known as: THE EUROPEAN UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS.
      Prior to that wicked, late Prime Minister Ted Heath’s Local Goverment Reform Act of 1974, having alreadty ceded Parliament’s right to govern to Brussels in the previous year, his ‘Government ‘ now set about emasculating Local Authorities’ powers also.
      Under this Act, Brighton was reduced from a County Borough to a Borough Council while The Borough of Hove annexed Portslade Urban District Council and both then became subservient to East Sussex County Council, based in Lewes.
      Over the years, as the powers of both Borough and County Councils were steadily eroded (including those of the newly formed Brighton & Hove Unitary Authority in 1997), Council’s were obliged by law to institute ever more bungling bureaucractic practises from Brussels, such as Diversity Departments, Climate Quotas and ‘Standards Boards,’ amongst others.
      These ‘Standards Boards’,’ in most cases, amount to nothing less than a means to stifle the free speech of our democratically elected Councillors, just as in the case of the European ‘Parliament’ where it was by no means uncommon for the Speaker to switch off the microphones of MEP’s such as Nigel Farage and his colleagues in both UKIP and the Brexit Party who between them won both the Euro Elections in 2014 & 2019 with MASSIVE majorities—get the picture?
      Equally bad, though less obvious, are the plethora of European laws (hopefully to be repealed in the near future) which cover the terms and conditions of employment of Civil Servants and Council Officers—AND HEREIN LIES THE PROBLEM!
      Since attaining Unity Authority status in 1997, Brighton & Hove Council has gone through an inordinate number of Chief Executives and Senior Council Officers who have each received substantial pay-offs on leaving the authority (mainly by their own choice), plus inflation-proofed pensions—even if they already had still higher-paid positions lined-up in advance!—Ask yourself: HOW CAN THAT BE RIGHT?
      As for the charge that Officers are running the show—IT’S TRUE—but only because the vast majority of Councillors are either too idle to do their necessary volume of homework or too incompetent!
      That charge could NEVER be laid at the door of Robert Nemeth and he shall have whatever support that I can garner and I know that I speak for many others in this regard.
      At the end of the day, in a democracy, only his electors in Wish Ward have the right to judge his standards at the Ballot Box and I really don’t believe that he has any worries in that resect!
      Keep up the good fight, Robert—COMMON SENSE IS WINNING!

  5. bradly23 Reply

    accountability gone mad = Councillor Nemeth’s refusal to provide his version of events or engage with the investigation is worthy.

  6. Daniel Harris Reply

    the figures are massively reduced from the reality, due to attacks and murders sleeping habits have amended. With the other pandemic addiction loads are finding dens, why is it costing £3.9m already to house all those since lockdown in hotels etc?

    Grassroots Services have not gotten any quieter, the issue is certain weather in on nights and counts will impact. Loads sleep and find places to bed. We have an issue in our block, regular rough sleepers.

    Dont normally support the tories but this is stupid.

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