(S)TOP SECRET – Parish Clerks: The Giant Leeches
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD.
Following the unexpectedly positive response to my recent article about Seamer & Crossgates Parish Council in the Borough of Scarborough (where there are 39 Parish and Town Councils) – I have received a number of requests to report on a largely unpublicised little ‘closed-shop’ just a few miles to the north of the town, where the ‘part-time’ Parish Clerk (and Responsible Financial Officer) has been operating a ‘nice little earner’. Asking around amongst my Councillor confidants over the past week, I was surprised to discover that hardly anyone knows the name of Mrs Jools MARLEY.
I have been corresponding with Jools MARLEY in her capacity as Parish Clerk to Newby & Scalby Parish Council where she works 25 hours a week.
Rather like her counterpart at Seamer & Crossgates Parish Council, Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY still believes that her Council’s Standing Orders came down from the mountain with Moses – and neither Act of Parliament nor public demand shall ever cast them out of the temple. She seems to believe that the Rt. Hon. Eric PICKLES, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, is barking up the wrong tree when he insists that:
“An independent local press and robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy. We have given councils more power, but local people need to be able to hold their councils to account. We are taking action against town hall Pravdas which are undermining the independent free press, but I want to do more to help the new cadre of hyper-local journalists and bloggers.
I asked for councils to open their doors, but some have slammed theirs shut, calling in the police to arrest bloggers and clinging to old-fashioned standing orders.
It was Mrs Thatcher who introduced the right to attend council meetings back in 1960. It is right that we now bring her legacy up to date with the digital age. Councillors should not be shy about the good work that they do.
This new right will be the key to helping bloggers and tweeters as well as journalists to unlocking the mysteries of local government and making it more transparent for all. My department is standing up for press freedom.”
Confronted by the reality of members of the public attending meetings of Newby & Scalby Parish Council and recording some extraordinary departures from the Council’s own protocols by County/Borough/Parish Councillor Derek ‘First Class’ BASTIMAN, Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY announced that there would be no use of ‘electronic devices’ to film/video, audio-record, live-stream or Tweet meetings and that, instead, the Council would henceforth be recording meetings itself.
So, on 10th October 2013, I sent her an FOIA request for a copy, in *.wav format, of the Council’s own audio-recording of the meeting held on the preceding evening – 9th October 2013.
Two weeks later, on 24th October 2013, Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY wrote to inform me that:
- “. . . the council will need to incur a cost of £5.00 on purchasing the necessary equipment to convert the recording from analogue to digital.”
In due course (having raised the five pounds through public subscription), I sent her a cheque for a fiver. Scarcely had I dropped the envelope in the post when I received an email from Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY informing me that:
- “The fee note in the sum of £5 issued to you on 24th October 2013 is hereby withdrawn and cancelled with immediate effect.”
Naturally, I was delighted by this magnanimous gesture, so I responded to her congratulating her on her exemplary service and asking her to destroy my cheque and provide evidence of having done so. (I do not wish to have my bank account number and sorting code bandied around the corridors of power).
On 5th November 2013, I received an email from Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY, informing me that the requested audio-file was being uploaded to a file-sharing website and that I would presently receive an email informing me that the file was ready for download. Furthermore,
- “The file will be available for download for 7 days. For further information, please see here.”
Being thoroughly conversant with file-sharing websites, I did not follow the link “for further information”.
But on 14th November 2013, having heard nothing further, I emailed Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY asking her for the promised link.
On the 18th November 2013 one week after the expiry of the 20 working-days time-limit on my FOIA request of 10th October 2013, I received the following information from Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY:
- “Recordings are only kept by Council until the minutes of the meeting have been approved – that being the case, the Council no longer has any recordings for the meeting of 9th October 2013, therefore I am unable to provide you again with this information.”
What Mrs Jools MARLEY could not anticipate was the eventuality of privately-recorded audio being provided by a member of the Council; not every secret stays in the bag.
In the light of this miserly approach to transparency, one wonders if Mrs MARLEY learnt her trade from Ebeneeer SCROOGE . . .
In the greater scheme of public sector skulduggery, this is a trivial enough episode, but whenever I encounter conduct like this on the part of a paid public servant, I am motivated to investigate further. So I have been having a closer look at Mrs Jools MARLEY, Clerk to Newby & Scalby Parish Council, where she works 25 hours per week.
Mrs Jools MARLEY is also Clerk to Burniston Parish Council, were she is contracted to work 6 hours per week. Interestingly, she also designed (and has for the last 10 years maintained) the Council’s website.
Mrs Jools MARLEY is also Clerk to Cloughton Parish Council, were she styles herself ‘Mrs Julia MARLEY’ and is contracted to work 3 hours per week. Interestingly, she also designed (and has for the last 13 years maintained) this Council’s website, too.
And there is more.
Mrs Jools Marley is also Clerk to the Hackness & Harwood Dale Group Parish Council (comprising Broxa cum Troutsdale, Darncombe cum Langdale End, Hackness, Harwood Dale, Silpho and Suffield cum Everley Parish Councils), were she is contracted to work an undisclosed number of hours per week. Interestingly, she also designed (and has for the last 7 years maintained) this Group Council’s website.
And finally, Mrs Jools Marley is also Clerk to Staintondale Parish Council, were she also seems to have been contracted to work an undisclosed number of hours per week. Interestingly, she also designed (and has for the last 14 years maintained) this Group Council’s website.
In total, Mrs Jools MARLEY works at least 36 hours per week – even if she clocks only 1 hour per week at the two last-named Parish Councils on this list.
In 2009, the National Association of Local Councils recommended a sliding-scale remuneration full full- and part-time CiLCA-qualified Clerks of between £22,221 and £31,754. I do not know the hourly rate paid to Mrs Jools MARLEY by her various Councils. But I do know the salary of one local Clerk, based on a 36 hours per week contract – c. £28,000 per annum (plus superannuation).
Following the mandatory Procurement Process, that same Council paid almost £5,000 for its web-design, with a £500 per annum service charge.
The National Minimum Wage is £6.31 per hour, or £227.16 per 36 hour week. That equates to an annual salary of £11,130.84 gross for a 49-week year. We can reasonably conclude that, all in all, Mrs Jools MARLEY is picking up something like three times that amount.
But readers who follow the links provided above will quickly discern that the websites for Mrs Jools MARLEY’s above-named Parish Councils are all built to the same rather simplistic template. I think we might be interested to know how much each of the respective Parish Councils has paid out (from the public purse) to Mrs Jools MARLEY for her web-design and maintenance over the years, in addition to her basic salaries.
One might reasonably conclude that Parish Clerk Mrs Jools MARLEY is on a nice little number – except that the number is not so little.
And what is the public receiving in terms of value for money from our Parish Clerks? Are they, as many suggest, nothing more than leeches on the public purse?
Aside from the less than demanding standard duties of a Parish (or Town) Clerk, we may wish to consider Mrs Jools MARLEY’s attitude to the over-arching principles of openness, transparency and accountability, including of course statutory duties defined under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Localism Act 2011, much-vaunted by the Rt. Hon. Eric PICKLES.
We have already examined Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY’s highly dubious technique with regard to my own FOIA request.
Then there is the curious matter of the many different versions of Auto-Response sent out in response to particularly penetrating questions.
Other members of the public report similar evasion. One man felt compelled to report Mrs Jools MARLEY to SBC Monitoring Officer Lisa DIXON.
And Newby & Scalby Parish Council has already attracted the interest of the Department for Communities & Local Government.
Consequently, I have emailed the Clerk informing her, amongst other points, that:
“I intend to visit your various Parish Councils in due course, on an ad hoc basis, where I shall be exercising my right to film/video, audio-record, ‘live-stream’ and/or ‘Tweet’ the manner in which those Councils conduct there business.”
Let us see how Parish Clerk Jools MARLEY acquits herself in the court of public opinion.
I rather suspect that she is about to become a LEGEND in her own part-time.