Saturday 27th May 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

ELN: By All Accounts – LIARS!

October 24, 2014 Exelby, Leeming & Newton

ELN: By All Accounts – LIARS!

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on some apparently false declarations in the Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council audited accounts. Naughty, naughty, naughty!

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Background

Readers may already be familiar with the details of my investigation into the conduct of Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council (ELN). For those who are not, the entirety of the smutty little saga can be viewed here:

My investigation of the conduct of Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council (ELN) began with a request for certain information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, dated 24th May 2014.

On 17th June 2014, Parish Clerk Margaret STEAD provided a response in which the following failures on the part of the Council were acknowledged:

  1. Failure to comply with legislation in respect of procurement processes for contracts with the Council, which had been granted unlawfully for a period of fifteen years.
  2. Failure to document procurement contracts or to advertise procurement opportunities in accordance with legislation. Instead, contracts were agreed verbally and granted to a member of the parish Council – Councillor Louis ROBINSON
  3. Failure to register the Parish Clerk as the Registered Data Controller, including numerous derelictions of required data storage security.
  4. Failure to secure mandatory data security indemnification.
  5. Failure to comply with, inter alia, the Local Government Act 1972 in respect of the Minuting of Meetings and Decisions – some of which were approved informally and “out of meeting”.
  6. Failure, over many years, to maintain Registers of Interests of elected members, including failure to provide mandatory updates within 28 days of occurrence, in breach of the Localism Act 2011 (criminal offences).
  7. Failure, over many years, to adopt and conduct a Complaints Procedure.

These ‘seven deadly sins’ are openly admitted to by the Parish Clerk. They are not mere allegations; they are acknowledged facts.

The Clerk concluded her FOIA response thus:

  • “I hope that you will see that the council has recognised that it can make improvements in many areas.  We are working with the Yorkshire Local Councils Associations to improve our procedures and administration but I thank you for the help that you have given in the points that you have raised above.
    Yours sincerely, Margaret Stead”

The Council’s conduct since these very serious departures from the statutory requirements came to light is no better. A host of further infractions have been committed – and exposed – and yet no action has been taken against the Council, the Chair, the Councillors or the Clerk.

In addition to these breaches of statutory requirement, the Council has been in flagrant breach of the Freedom of Information Act, ignoring requests for information, and has even ignored repeated warnings from the Information Commissioner’s Office to bring itself into line with statutory requirements.

The Council has also ignored issues related to breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998 and has neither acknowledged nor responded to statutory requirements in relation to Subject Access Requests.

Unsurprisingly, three of the seven Councillors – Ray WRIGGLESWORTH, John PEIRSON and Brian SHUTTLEWORTH – have resigned (since which time, the ELN ‘Rent-a-Mob’ has been conspicuous by its absence). The Council has been in ‘lock-down mode’, ignoring correspondence.

ELN_MEMBERS_&_CLERK

Of the remaining four, Councillor Louis ROBINSON is under investigation in regard to 15 years of grass-cutting contracts granted outside of required tendering procedures.

Councillor Dorothy DIXON is under investigation for failing to declare an interest in a Planning Application for her own premises and, instead of leaving the Meeting as required, actually taking part in the debate and Resolution to recommend Consent. She is also under investigation under the terms of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct in respect of breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998, as well as using foul language towards members of the public in an open Meeting.

Councillor Frank HERBERT has had little to say. One wonders why he stays in the firing-line.

But the Chair of ELN, Councillor John KETTLEWELL, would appear to have a huge problem on his hands, since it is he (along with the Council’s Responsible Financial Officer – Parish Clerk Margaret STEAD) who bears the responsibility for having signed off the Council’s Annual Accounts. Oh, dear.

Quite aside from the financial information contained within the Council’s Annual Accounts, there is a legal requirement to complete a declaration regarding the veracity of various statements confirming that the Council has conduct its business in compliance with statute.

Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, it is worth reporting the positions of both the External Auditor, PPF Littlejohn LLP and the Internal Auditor (Nigel EXELBY of XLB Accountancy Services) – correspondence with whom clearly indicates that the responsibility for any false declaration rests not with them – oh, no – rather with ELN Chair Councillor John KETTLEWELL and Responsible Financial Officer & Parish Clerk Margaret STEAD.

The declarations are theirs, and theirs alone, and any culpability arising from the the declarations proving false rests entirely with them.

External Auditor:

PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP has stated, on 6th October 2014:

  • “We can confirm that we received nothing to draw our attention to any issues (other than those raised in our audit report) in advance of giving our audit opinion.”

and

  • “Please be aware that the Council is subject to the limited assurance audit regime. As such we rely on their positive assurance in Section 2 that their governance procedures have been adhered to during the year in question. As part of the audit we would not request any backing documentation or explanations to back those assertions up. We did not receive any information in regard to the assertions in Box 2 from the Council and, unless other information had come to our attention during the audit (for instance by correspondence from a local elector or by a query from the Council), then we would not have expected to receive any as it had not been requested by us. If the Council had answered ‘No’ to any of the assertions, then we would have expected to receive further information to explain that.”

So the External Auditor has signed off, on 21st August 2014, its acceptance, on trust, of the false declarations made by Councillor John KETTLEWELL and Parish Clerk Margaret STEAD:

EXTERNAL_AUDITOR_DISCLAIMER

Internal Auditor:

Nigel EXELBY of XLB Accountancy Services has stated, on 19th October 2014:

  • “I am afraid I can add no further comments other than those that the external auditors have responded with and would respectfully suggest you address your concerns directly with the officers of the parish council or the appropriate authority so they can be fully investigated.”

INTERNAL_AUDITOR_DISCLAIMER

The Internal Auditor is entitled to demand proof of compliance. Failure to comply incurs a Level 3 fine (£1,000) plus £20 per day for continued non-compliance (in the present case, this may amount to up to six years – £43,820).

To me, these responses make it abundantly clear that both the Internal and External Auditors have relied upon the veracity of the accounts as presented to them – taking them ‘on trust’ – and the responsibility for the false declarations must indeed rest entirely upon Councillor John KETTLEWELL and Parish Clerk Margaret STEAD.

But before I itemise the false declarations in question, readers may wish to consider the likely consequences for any member of the public caught having made a false declaration in respect of, say, Income Tax returns, Benefit claims or VAT returns. The Crown Prosecution Service addresses such matters with the following sentencing ranges:

Sentencing Range:

Fine to 7 years imprisonment (Value Added Tax Act 1994),

Up to 7 years imprisonment (Theft Act 1968),

Fine to 10 years imprisonment (Fraud Act 2006)

Now let us examine exactly what it is that Councillor John KETTLEWELL an Clerk Margaret STEAD have signed off as true – knowing full well that their declarations are false.

ELN_ACCOUNTS_01

Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council’s own records and correspondence show that:

  • [Article 2] – no steps were taken to instigate a corruption-proof procurement process.
  • [Article 3] – no steps were taken to prevent non-compliance with statutory requirements.
  • [Article 4] – accounts were made available for only one week, and then only upon payment.
  • [Article 5] – no risk assessment was undertaken.
  • [Article 8] – no consideration of any forthcoming litigation took place.

Whether these failings stem from acute incompetence or dumb ignorance is beside the point; the fact remains that five of these statutory declarations are untrue – they are false declarations.

Further, the declarations are accompanied by the information that these accounts were approved by full Council (at Minute Reference Item 5, on 19th May 2014) and yet it was not until 9th September 2014 that Councillor John KETTLEWELL declared the accounts completed.

090914_NOTICE

Charles ARNOLD-BAKER makes clear in his seminal work “Local Council Administration” that signing a false declaration on the parish Council Accounts is an offence under s.5 of the Perjury Act 1911, and:

  • “Anyone who knowingly makes or signs a false declaration may be imprisoned for up to two years or fined or both.”

Meanwhile, the Council is ignoring Freedom of Information requests for sight of the Annual Accounts for the past six years, though such documents form part of the public record and should be available in the public domain at no cost.

In fact, according to HDC, the email contact address for Parish Clerk Margaret STEAD is “currently unavailable”.

Has the Parish Council defaulted on its ISP charges? Is the Clerk alive? Is she dead? Has she fled the country? Is she already locked up?

Even the Information Commissioners’ Office has been unable to elicit any response from ELN – or so we are led to believe.

Why would that be?

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