Whitby Public Assembly (19th Dec. ’23)
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on a significant step on the road to reclaiming democratic involvement in local government in Whitby, where Councillors have not a vote between them to act on the people’s behalf.
At 6:00pm on the evening of Tuesday 19th December 2023, over 50 people assembled in the Ballroom of the Royal Hotel, Whitby, to discuss, inter alia, the proposal by Whitby Town Clerk & Responsible Financial Officer, Mr Michael KING, to follow the shocking 2023/24 Precept rise of 21.5% (from £233,385 to £283K) with a further increase, for 2024/25, of another 45.6% (to £412K).
A Proposal to elect former Town Councillor Lee DERRICK to chair the meeting was immediately Seconded and carried unanimously. Former Whitby Town Councillor Mrs Joyce STANGOE volunteered to record the Minutes/Notes.
Of the present membership of Whitby Town Council, only Councillors Alf ABBOTT, Rob BARNETT and Chris RIDDOLLS attended.
In point of fact, a far greater attendance was ‘stymied’ by the efforts of the Town Clerk and Councillor Asa JONES to discredit the completely lawful assembly of residents. Following the meeting, the Enquirer received a tip-off to the effect that, in the hour or so leading up to the meeting, a silver SUV was seen scurrying around the town with the driver jumping out to remove posters/notices publicising the event, presumably in the hope of deterring would-be attendees:
Earlier in the day, one Councillor had reported that the Whitby Town Mayor, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE, had been advised to attend the meeting and immediately close it down as ‘unlawful’.
Unsurprisingly, this did not transpire; there is no prohibition against members of the public meeting to discuss their concerns.
Obviously, the Mayor would have enjoyed no special authority to intervene and may, in fact, have been guilty of an offence under the Public Order Act 1986 had he attempted to disrupt proceedings.
The right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in Article 11 of the Human Rigts Act 1998:
Unlike the Town Meeting/Assembly of 4th September 2023, when the Mayor presided and Councillor Asa JONES (whose name has appeared in the local press recently almost as frequently as he would wish) took the Minutes/Notes, Tuesday night’s meeting was entirely cordial, informative and productive.
Chair Lee DERRICK began by introducing Whitby Community Network’s Andy JEFFERSON, who talked us through the following PowerPoint Presentation, answering questions from the public as they arose. Readers may view the PowerPoint Presentation in PDF-format here (opens in a new tab):
A lively discussion ensued around many of the disturbing financial figures revealed in the PowerPoint Presentation. More than one member of the public sought answers to the question: “What exactly does Whitby Town Council provide in the way of services or amenities to the people of Whitby and will they increase in proportion to the Precept rise?”
Well, aside from managing the allotments, the Council also runs the public conveniences, via a contractor (DANFO), which produces revenue to supplement the Precept. It also receives “up to 60%” of the admissions fees for Whitby Museum and the Pannett Art Gallery for the same purpose. As one member of the public pointed out, neither of these services enjoys much demand from the vast majority of residents; like much else in Whitby, both of these ‘services’ favour visitors.
People were shocked to learn that a significant proportion of the budgeted reduction in toilets revenue appears to have been caused by a malfunctioning credit card machine that had apparently proceeded unnoticed or unreported for many months.
One member of the public asked whether or not the Council holds funds in Reserve accounts that could be used to defray the unprecedented Precept rise. The answer to that appears to be that though (at the last count) the Council holds around £75K in various Reserve accounts, these are ring-fenced for specific purposes.
Great credit was accorded to Councillor Sandra TURNER, without whose diligence at the Finance, Policy & General Purposes Committee meeting on 5th December 2023 the Clerk/RFO’s Budget would very likely have been passed ‘on the nod’, as it has in recent years when the Precept has escalated from £203,000 (2020/21), through £233,385 (2022/23 ) and £283,560 (2023/24) to a staggering £412,625 for the coming year (2024/25).
Though this astonishing four-year doubling of the Precept was foremost in discussions throughout the meeting, all of the Items on the evening’s Agenda were discussed in considerable depth, with informative contributions from all corners of the room:
Twenty electors (only six are required by law) signed a Call for a further Town Meeting/Assembly, to be held at 6:00pm on Monday 8th January 2024 (the evening before the next Full Council meeting on 9th January 2024), to be held again in the thoroughly welcoming atmosphere of the the Ballroom of the Royal Hotel; acoustically satisfactory, parking-friendly, etc:
The Enquirer has been informed that the above legally compliant Call for a Town Meeting/Assembly on 8th January 2024 has been duly delivered to the Town Council, kindly witnessed by the security guard. It is difficult to see how the Council can plausibly deny receipt.
The Enquirer has since learned that the official Notices have been duly signed by Proposer and Seconder and posted in the customary prominent locations around the town (and, of course, here on the Enquirer):
Thus, everything appears to be in place to ensure that the people of Whitby will, after all, be permitted a ‘say’ in the affairs of the town, as prescribed in the Local Government Act 1972.