Vexatious Potto 2
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, investigating the wild tactics of self-denial and a story of abject refusal to acknowledge the difficult truths that continued to blight the serially deficient Potto Parish Council throughout 2023. Readers may recall that External Auditor PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP “identified weaknesses in the Governance and Accountability [at Potto Parish Council] of sufficient significance to warrant a Public Interest Report” (PIR) in July 2022. This article seeks to determine whether (or not) any discernible attempt has been made to effect improvements to Potto’s Governance and Accountability.
‘Governance’ describes the effectiveness of how an authority is managed or led, as demonstrated by its adherence to a system of processes, rules, laws and practices.
There have been some developments since I investigated and reported on this matter on 5th November 2023. I have selected the following example of an Information Rights Tribunal, where Tribunal Judge GOODMAN determined that Potto Parish Council’s actions were “not in accordance with the law”.
Rather than acknowledge and accept the Judge’s Decision (which is exactly what the Information Commissioner’s Solicitor did), Potto Parish Council drafted a seven page ‘letter of appeal’. I reproduce it here [link] for transparency but, unusually, I do not recommend readers to click on this link to read this letter. This is because the Appellant, the resident of Potto who was successful in overturning both the Council’s and the Information Commissioner’s unlawful assertion that the Appellant’s input was “vexatious”, has provided a well-evidenced, detailed and utterly damning retort to this Council letter of ‘appeal’.
The Appellant has annotated Potto Council’s letter by inserting the inconvenient truths (in blue text) below each section of the Council’s letter (black text). This combined letter [link], which comprehensively identifies and exposes much of the maladministration informing the actions of Potto Parish Council, is not just highly recommended reading, I think it is essential reading. It is gripping and enthralling, a very convincing, factual and compelling tale of a floundering Council and local democracy in ruins.
Whilst I note the Council’s September Minutes (Agenda Item 4.8) record details of it discussing and drafting this purported ‘appeal’, oddly, this ‘appeal’ is omitted from all subsequent Minutes. It seems that even the Council’s own membership has been kept in the dark. The very fact that Potto Parish Council still refuses to record or publish the Judge’s decision that its ‘appeal’ has utterly failed is indicative of yet another significant failure of Governance. The meeting Minutes remain mere propaganda, not even approaching a true or complete record of the Council’s business.
‘Accountability’ is a key aspect of Governance, equated to culpability, liability and answerability; it means being responsible for what you do and being able to give a satisfactory reason for your actions and conduct.
I have only found evidence of one complaint about the Clerk, Joanne STOREY (née WILDE) in the last 18 months or so, see excerpt from Potto Parish Council’s November 2023 minutes:
This Complaint [link] is compelling. It describes how the Clerk ignored a multitude of safeguards in the Council’s Standing Orders and Financial Regulations; a ‘weakness’ that led directly to incurred losses of public money amounting to over twice the annual Precept income of the Parish. It also records Potto Parish Council’s prolific breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998 and its breaches of its own Bullying and Harassment Statement.
Those members recorded as present, who (despite Item 9.6 not even being on the Agenda) apparently each immediately agreed to dismiss this Complaint (rather than adhere to the safeguarding steps in the Complaint Handling Procedure), should each be ashamed of themselves:
Their actions characterise ‘institutional corruption’, defined thus:
I suggest that it is obvious to every reader that Accountability at Potto Council remains conspicuous by its total absence.
Governance and Accountability
For a contemporary example, which I suggest covers both ‘Governance’ and ‘Accountability’, I refer to the draft December 2023 minutes; excerpt below:
It appears that PKF’s Audit Investigation continues, and rather than acknowledge or address the same problems that are continually identified and raised year after year, the Council is attempting to bully or intimidate the Auditor by ‘objecting’ to the Auditor, who is simply carrying out its duties. However, the Council cannot ‘object’ to the audit process, any more than it can ‘appeal’ against it – no such process is available. This utterly ridiculous and positively atrocious attitude to Governance and Accountability remains deeply entrenched and seemingly intractable.
Lastly, Potto council has now admitted that it holds ‘no information’ (apart from the Action Plan) about how it supposedly addressed a single one of the 17 Audit Recommendations in the PIR; see FOI request:
Potto Parish Council’s handling of this FOIA request was appalling and eventually (and inevitably) the ICO issued a Decision Notice [link] which concluded that ‘the Council had disclosed all the information it held’ – in other words, nothing that would evidence it having addressed the PIR Recommendations. The Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice also records that “the Council’s standard approach to requests does not represent good practice” – a likely candidate for the Enquirer’s ‘Understatement of the Year Award’.
Unfortunately, the Council’s records do not include any reference to its future adherence to good practice.
In conclusion, it appears to me to be patently obvious, just from these four examples (selected from dozens of available others), that the entire remit of the 2022 PIR remains rock-solid and that all the problems that did exist still exist, and not only remain firmly embedded, but are getting steadily worse.
Potto Parish Council remains a paradigmatic example of truly unacceptable Governance and Accountability.
I wish its members a Happy New Year.