WTC Clerk on the Move?
- – an “In My View” opinion piece by NIGEL WARD, commenting on a reader’s speculation that Whitby Town Clerk/RFO, Mr Michael KING, may be contemplating a move to pastures new . . .
A North Yorks Enquirer reader (and former Councillor) has queried the possibility that, due to an extraordinary combination of undesirable circumstances, Whitby Town Clerk & Responsible Financial Officer, Mr Michael KING, may be contemplating throwing in the towel at Whitby Town Council.
First, a look at the series of events thought to have culminated in circumstances likely to militate in favour of that speculative suggestion:
1) The Town Clerk/RFO is the person responsible for preparing the Council’s Annual Accounts for approval by members. These have been challenged by a Whitby elector under provisions of the Local Audit & Accountibility Act 2014 and the Audit & Accountability (Regulations) 2015 that facilitate Formal Objections to the Accounts where certain statutory requirements give the appearance of having not been adequately met. These Objections have been deemed “eligible” by the Council’s External Auditor, PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP, as part of its “limited assurance review” of the Council’s Annual Governance & Accountability Review (AGAR) and Annual Governance Statement (AGS), which five switched-on WTC members voted not to accept. Six months into the 2023/24 financial year, it is becoming increasingly possible that further formal Objections will arise next spring;
2) A Formal Corporate Complaint against the Clerk/RFO in respect of a lengthy series of alleged breaches of his Job Description, as well as breaches of various statutory requirements, has been kicked into the long grass by the Council – now at risk of External Auditor Investigation Fees of £355.00 per hour plus VAT (i.e. £2,485.00 plus VAT per day). A similar Investigation at Potto Parish Council (subject of over 20 exposeés here on the Enquirer) resulted in an extremely rare and deeply damning Public Interest Report (PIR) leading to Audit Investigation Fees of £37,100.00);
3) Bearing in mind that Whitby Town Council’s Precept (that portion of residents’ Council Tax paid to the Town Council) stands at £283,560.00 for the 2023/24 financial year, with Staffing Costs of £246,000.00 (including the Clerk/RFO’s salary, reported to be over £80,000 per annum, plus NI and pension contributions), significant Audit Investigation Fees would be a crippling and humiliating blow to the Town Council – and a deeply damaging blow to Mr KING’s national professional reputation, since he is also a Board Director of the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC), as well as being a delegated Director of the Small Authorities Auditor Appointers Ltd (SAAA);
4) Subsequently, further matters have been brought to the External Auditor’s attention by other Whitby electors. The “eligibility” of these issues has resulted in the huge embarrassment to the Council that its Annual Accounts for 2022/23 have not been “signed off” by the External Auditor in time for the legal deadline of 30th September 2023;
5) Under Mr KING’s Clerkship, the Town Council has extracted over half a million pounds from residents’ in the last two years alone, whilst Staffing Costs have accounted for over £450K (including a 13.9% rise this year), giving the Council the appearance of being a “Clerk’s Benevolent Fund”;
6) As previously reported in these columns, the Clerk/RFO lodged a spurious and unsubstantiated formal Standards Complaint against a Whitby Town Councillor. Sources at County Hall have now confirmed that the Clerk/RFO’s Complaint has been dismissed by the NYC Monitoring Officer, Mr Barry KHAN, and the Independent Person for Standards, Ms Louise HOLROYD.
With these ‘black marks’ against the Clerk/RFO in mind, an astute and observant reader has pointed out the following item of news, reported in the Northern Echo a couple of days ago, on 27th October 2023:
So a Clerk’s salary of £65,000 per annum, set against the national average of just under £40,000, is creating uproar in County Durham. The Northern Echo should take a long look at Whitby in North Yorkshire.
In comparison to Whitby Town Council, Spennymoor Town Council appears to be a well-regulated Council with a full complement of 22 members elected by ballot. Its 2023/24 Precept was set at £1,394,410, with Staffing Costs of £763,600 (or 54.76%), whereas Whitby Town Council has just 19 members, none of whom was elected by ballot. Its 2023/24 Precept was set at £283,560.00, with Staffing Cost of £246,000 (or 86.76%). In the ‘Value for Money’ stakes, it is difficult to understand Spennymoor residents’ outrage.
Spennymoor (which falls under Durham County Council) is only c.17 miles from Darlington where (it is understood) the Whitby Town Clerk/RFO resides, as opposed to the c.47 miles between Darlington and Whitby.
In light of the Rt.Hon. Jacob REES-MOGG’s announcement that all civil servants will presently be required to put in five days per week in the office (no more ‘working from home’), Mr KING may well find that a (potentially temporary) reduction in salary is by no means entirely unattractive when offset against this drastic reduction in travelling time, plus – and it is a big plus – a golden opportunity to escape further embarrassing criticism at Whitby Town Council.
I must emphasise that the possibility of the WTC Clerk’s departure is purely speculative.
But . . . the burning question now is:
“Who would want to step into a WTC vacancy fraught with so much baggage?”
WTC Town Mayor, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE – who seems to struggle to write a coherent email without the help of his Clerk – may soon be about to find himself in at the deep end . . .