Wednesday 17th July 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Potto Nepocracy (Pt.1)

February 26, 2023 Potto

Potto Nepocracy (Pt.1)

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, examining the public record in regard to the Responsible Financial Officer of Potto Parish Council, Ms Joanne STOREY (née WILDE).
~~~~~
I am informed that a Formal Corporate Complaint has recently been lodged, by an acclaimed journalist, against the Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) of Potto Parish Council – more commonly termed ‘the Clerk’. Readers may wish to scrutinise for themselves how Potto Parish Council handles this complaint in the March 2023 Agenda and subsequent meeting minutes: www.potto.org.uk/ppc
To clarify the duties and responsibilities of a RFO/Clerk, it is important to note that this is a statutory and salaried position, mandated by the Local Government Act 1972, subject to employment law and held by appointment secured by a majority vote of the Council members. The following is a useful synopsis of what the position entails (I have alphabetised the paragraphs (in red bold type) for convenience of reference):
It is paragraphs a), b), d) and e) that concern us here.
Having examined a great deal of the documentation which forms Potto Parish Council’s public record, one central and fundamental anomaly stands out to me – the elephant in the room – and that is the conundrum of how the governance and financial control of the Council can have been so persistently and routinely inadequate as to occasion a uniquely damning Pubilic Interest Report (PIR), on the back of the third of three consecutive External Auditor Investigations in the past seven years.
Every aspect of the governance, accountability and financial failings identified by PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP falls squarely within the ambit of the RFO/Clerk, as definitively outlined in paragraphs a) and b) above – the ground rules. Potto Council’s job description for the RFO/Clerk further clarifies:
In this article, I will examine and reveal specific inadequacies in the Potto RFO/Clerk’s professional activity – or, better stated, unprofessional inactivity – subsequent to her supposedly “temporary” employment following the simultaneous departure of both (i) the previous Internal Auditor (Ms M ROBERTS) and (ii) the previous RFO/Clerk (Ms Ann PYLE) in 2011.
I find no record of either vacant position having been advertised, no record of  alternative applicant(s), no record of the successful candidate’s skill-set, no record of the succesful candidate’s qualifications (typically, for an RFO/Clerk, CiLCA Certification) or experience and no evidence of a precautionary probationary period.
Mrs STOREY’s only qualification appears to be the fact that she is the daughter of Councillor Andrew WILDE, Chair of the Parish Council, and apparently compliant to his every whim.
Nevertheless, somehow she was shoe-horned into the job:
A replacement RFO/Clerk, conveniently, has never been sought, found or appointed – leaving me to conclude that we have here an incontrovertible example of nepocracy:
Even amongst the people of the parish of Potto, who may not all be as docile as the Chair wishes to imagine, concerns have been expressed to me by an ordinary member of the public – of which, the following excerpt from a lengthy and detailed email is just one of a growing number:

The “other councillors”, each of whom has signed a legally-binding ‘Oath of Acceptance of Office’, committing them to Lord NOLAN’s Seven Principles of Public Life, including (at Article 7) the duty “to actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs“, have raised no challenge to many significant irregularities.

As an aside, I note that the December 2021 minutes confirm that Councillor Shaun MARCH appears to have joined the Council that month, at which time he was legally obliged to sign his own ‘Oath of Acceptance of Office’. In fact, he did so only on 16th March 2022 – three months late – in the presence of the Chair and the RFO/Clerk.

The Notes at the foot of this document confirm a very interesting fact:

Obviously, Shaun MARCH did not comply with Article 1. Thus, Article 4 comes into effect, which rquires compliance with Article 1 and Article 2. Thus,  Shaun MARCH’s status as a Councillor comes into question – a fact that he may well regard with a sigh of relief. In my view, Shaun MARCH has never been a Councillor and is free to walk away from this car-crash Council without so much as a letter of resignation – though it could perhaps be argued that he finally did become a Councillor on 16th March 2022 when he signed his Oath, though this would render his particpation in the three previous meetings unlawful. Again, the RFO/Clerk is responsible for compliance and has failed to identify or address this unlawful act.

Agendas

The Agenda is the overarching document that co-ordinates and controls the Council’s entire business. To itemise every departure from the required standards of Agendas at Potto Parish Council would be both extraordinarily lengthy and mind-numbingly tedious, so I will content myself with highlighting a few fundamental departures from proper, lawful local government procedure – so that the “other Councillors” have to hand the means to fulfil their legal obligations.

They would be well advised to do so.

It is a first principle of democracy that the conduct of every Council must be accessible to public scrutiny. In order that meetings are open and transparent, the relevant Agenda MUST be published in a prominent and customary public location and on the Council’s website (if it has one – and Potto Parish Council does), at least three clear days before the scheduled date and time of the meeting.

PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP emphasises this point in the July 2022 PIR:

‘Clear days’ means days excluding the day of publication and the day of the meeting, Sundays, Christmas and Boxing Days, and Bank Holidays [s.10(1) of Pt II of Sched. 12 of the Local Government Act 1972]. Thus, to legally convene a meeting on the third Wednesday of each month (as is the Council’s practice and policy), the Agenda MUST be published not later than the preceding Friday (Saturday, Monday and Tuesday being the requisite three clear days).

However, three months into the RFO/Clerk’s employment, the Chair, Councillor Andrew WILDE, was clearly still performing his RFO/Clerk’s duties – inadequately:

Consider this astonishing email exchange regarding the Agenda for the December 2011 meeting.
18th December 2011 at 10:48am:
‘Dad’ sends an email from his personal email account to ‘Joanne’ (the RFO/Clerk) on the Council’s email account, with draft Agenda attached.
Quite why ‘Janet WILDE’ was included in this official Council communication from ‘Dad’ is unclear – perhaps because it is Mrs Janet WILDE, the Chair’s wife (and the RFO/Clerk’s mother), who writes the Agendas – a truly family affair?
18th December 2011 at 11:24am (36 minutes later):
The RFO/Clerk sends an email to the Councillors, with Agenda attached, as approved by ‘Dad’:
On Monday 19th December 2011, at 7.15pm, the Council meeting was held – unlawfully, as usual.
Now just take a look at this astonishing exchange of five consecutive emails regarding the April 2012 Agenda, where the Chair is still pulling “Jo’s” strings.
13th April 2012 at 08:39am:
The RFO/Clerk sends a draft Agenda from the Council’s email account to the Chair’s personal email account, for the purpose of allowing the Chair to ‘look over’ the draft Agenda.
14th April 2012 at 17:35pm:
The Chair sends the ‘looked over’ Agenda (but states, mistakenly, ‘minutes’ in his email) from his personal email account back to “Jo” on the Council’s email account.
14 April 2012  at 17:44pm – (only 9 mins later):
During which the Chair finds that the RFO/Clerk is missing in action, so the Chair logs-on to the Council’s email account (as we shall see) and sends an email to Councillors from the Council’s email account, masquerading as and signed-off by the RFO/Clerk, but the Chair neglects to attach the Agenda.
15th April 2012 at 17:00pm:
The RFO/Clerk is informed the Agenda was not attached yesterday and re-sends the email to Councillors explaining why (now with Agenda attached).
15th April 2012 at 5:07pm:
Councillor Ian MACPHERSON sends a sarcastic email to all members, acknowledging and confirming the absurdity of the previous exchanges.
On Monday 16th April 2012, the Council meeting took place – contrary to law (as usual).
In the next example, eight months later, the RFO/Clerk acknowledges she was publishing the Agenda for “last night’s” meeting – post facto.
18th December 2012 at 10:55am:
Another example showing that the Chair was still manipulating and has absolute control over the RFO/Clerk, the following email, was sent during the afternoon of 16th September 2013. By this time, the Clerk had been in position for TWO whole years. This confirms that the Chair was still pulling his daughter’s strings:

“A trivial act of human error”, my critics will say. Except that failure to publish the Agenda in accordance with the law renders the meetings themselves unlawful and all of the business transacted, likewise. Unsurprisingly, no members of the public attended (see minutes, here).

In consequence of this litany of amateurish bungling, more akin to ‘Fawlty Towers’ than a branch of local government, an important and entirely legitimate Formal Complaint was raised.

The eventual outcome – an example of protectionism that I would characterise as the puppeteer protecting his puppet – was recorded in the April 2017 Minutes six-and-a-half years into the RFO/Clerk’s tenure:

“Commended for her work”? This nonsense is known as “paper-trailing” – prefabrication of the written record against future criticism. The Chair was effectively commending himself for his daughter’s shortcomings!

Fortunately, PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP did not share the Chair’s paternally benevolent view. As early as 2014/15, the External Auditor had already identified (and did so again in 2015/16) that the RFO/Clerk had not adequately conducted the publication of Agendas, recording that:

Astonishingly, the following Table records approaching 20 individual instances of compliance failure on the part of the RFO/Clerk – all of which were dismissed by Potto Council but, having been identified by the Objector, were all validated and UPHELD by PKF LITTLEJOHN.

To my mind, there can be no doubt whatsoever that a large proportion of Potto Parish Council meetings have been unlawfully convened, with the effect that huge swathes of ‘decision making’ stand null and void. Money has been disbursed illegally. I will not belabour readers with a full account of this disaster here. The following Table (as much as I could constrain to a single page of A4) will serve to illuminate my point and brook no refutation:

A year-and-a-half’s business totally null and void, entirely because the Chair, in attempting to perform the RFO/Clerk’s legal duties, has been so incompetent as to fail her and the Parish in every aspect of the Council’s raison d’être. Precept paid – nothing lawfully accomplished.

This transcends incompetence. It transcends farce. It inhabits the realm of utter stupidity.

Readers may have noticed that these examples refer only to the first few years of Mrs STOREY assuming her position as RFO/Clerk. Readers may well be thinking that compliance, especially noting the burgeoning Audit censure, surely should have improved in later years. Indeed it should; and compliance did change in more recent years – it DETERIORATED.
Below is an extract [link here to whole page] from a screenshot of the Council’s website, dated 20th May 2021. The ‘draft’ March and April Minutes had not been published, the Agendas for the meetings held on 28th April 2021 and the 19th May 2021 remain unpublished.
 
Many more similar examples could be included here. I am given to understand these examples have been received and validated by PKF LITTLEJOHN – hence the necessity and justification for the PIR.

Surely there must be a procedure for holding the RFO/Clerk to account?

Audit Compliance

The Annual Accounts for the financial years 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016 through 2020 were investigated by External Auditor PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP, with the following outcome:

The RFO/Clerk is personally, solely and legally responsible for statutory compliance.

And yet as far as I can determine, the Council has never deviated from its initial response – total denial:

In Pt.2 of this article, I shall examine other aspects of the RFO/Clerk’s failings. No doubt she will rely on what is known as the ‘Nuremburg V Defence’ – “I was just following orders” – but there lies the root of the whole problem. The RFO/Clerk’s statutory duties specifically include ensuring that the elected members do not stray outside of the legal requirements, which are not conveniently negated by daddy’s will. The duty to advise the Chair that he was bang out of order resides firmly and solely with the RFO/Clerk. ‘Dad’ has hung ‘Jo‘ out to dry.

So, Pt.2 of this article will examine the case for concluding that the innumerable shortcomings of the RFO/Clerk may more justly be attributed to her father, the Chair, Councillor Andrew WILDE.

Now that highly detailed analyses of the facts (according to the public record of Potto Parish Council) are readily available in the public domain (and have been read by many thousands of people), no critic of the RFO/Clerk should rush to judgement without assessing the potent mitigation arising from the possibility of her having been manipulated, subjugated, dominated. Some might say ‘bullied’.

Finally, I have not forgotten (but many thanks to the readers who remind me) that I have yet to publish Pt.4 of my “Potto: Where’s the Money?” series. Patience, please – I have to report on a Borough Council in meltdown, a time-sensitive issue.
Meanwhile, previous (and future) articles on Potto Parish Council will all continue to appear here:

Comments are closed.