WTC: Return of the Backstabbers
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, noting the persistence of personal rancour and the blatant disregard of primary Council duties by members of Whitby Town Council (WTC), none of whom, in the present Council cycle, has ever obtained the mandate of a single vote at the ballot box.
Back in 2014, I published a series of articles on the North Yorks Enquirer reporting in excruciating detail on the dysfunctionality of Whitby Town Council:
- “WTC: A Council Divided” (Backstabbers I) – [31/08/14]
- “WTC Ruckus: An Up-Date” (Backstabbers II) – [1/09/14]
- “WTC: The Mayor’s Nest” (Backstabbers III) – [20/10/14]
- “WTC: The Turkeys Who Voted For Christmas” (Backstabbers IV) – [2/11/14]
- “WTC: Turkeys, Ostriches – and Lemmings” (Backstabbers V) – [5/11/14]
- “WTC: Black Kettle Impugns White Pot” (Backstabbers VI) – [1/12/14]
I mention this only as background to the present incarnation of the Town Council which, despite the appointment of a new Clerk/RFO, has descended to even greater depths of internal strife, with a concomitant – but unprecedented – dysfunctionality.
In the company of a member of the Whitby Community Network, I attended the Extraordinary Meeting of WTC on Tuesday 15th August, held at 2:00pm in the afternoon (when working members of the public are otherwised engaged). The meeting was convened under the signatures of 10 members (a majority of the 19-strong Council), for the purpose of attempting to revise the terms of the Council’s Standing Orders in order to achieve a more democratic approach to the matter of appointing members to the Council’s various Committees and Sub-Committees. Naturally – but unfortunately – these attempts failed.
What follows goes some way to explaining why . . .
[Cllrs’ comments, recorded verbatim in contemporaneous notes and cited in this report, were also noted by my companion]
Places on the more influential Committees have, for many years, been ‘hogged’ by a small number of long-standing members who apparently view these positions as their own private domain.
Councillor Chris RIDDOLLS, in attempting to broach the matter diplomatically, explained his Seconding of Councillor Alf ABBOTT’s Motion, stating:
“We are trying to set a more democratic distribution of members on Committees”.
Even the Mayor went so far as to admit (in a masterclass of understatement) that:
“The present system may not work”.
However, all semblance to reasonable debate soon evaporated as the reactionary members who, “clinging to imagined power” (as former SBC Deputy CEO Hilary JONES once characterised them), soon resorted to interrupting proceedings with ad hoc derogatory remarks in defence of the status quo.
In very little time flat, some members totally ignored the protocol to address Council ‘through the Chair’ and began firing off offensive tirades at the very members who are trying to restore some rigour and dignity to proceedings.
Councillor Heather COUGHLAN, a member of 20 years’ standing – and a former Mayor who really should know better – shrieked the following indignant harangue at . . . well, in fact, I am unclear as to whom this entirely inappropriate remark was levelled:
This in a Council that has unanimously adopted the NALC Civility & Respect Pledge.
My companion and I were shocked by this outburst. We imagined that the Mayor might remind Councillor COUGHLAN of her legally-binding commitment the NALC Civility & Respect Pledge and to Lord NOLAN’s Seven Principles of Public Life and the associated requirements of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct:
“Treat all persons fairly and with respect”? “Lead by example”? “Secures public confidence”?
One might reasonably expect that a Councillor of Mrs COUGHLAN’s 20 years’ experience would by now no longer need to review the following Guidance:
Councillor COUGHLAN appears to be oblivious to such niceties. Perhaps retirement beckons?
But the Mayor, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE, said nothing.
At which point, one might have expected the Clerk/RFO, Mr Michael KING, to advise the Mayor to invoke Standing Order 2a:
“Behave offensively or improperly”?
The Clerk/RFO also said nothing.
The conclusion must be that some Councillors (certain Councillors) can behave as they will.
Councillor COUGHLAN, by the way, is the same member who responded to a Councillor’s calls for an urgent revision to some of the Council’s Policies and Procedures by proclaiming, in petulant tones:
“But we’ve always done things this way!”
There lies the problem. Twenty years of hubris, self-importance and sheer ignorance has led to a completely ineffectual shambles costing Whitby ratepayers £283,560.00 (£57.31 per Band D household – see Council Tax Invoice, below) for 2023/24, with Staffing Costs set at £246,000, thereby accounting for 86.5% (almost seven-eighths) of the Precept. Not to mention overheads exceeding £100K:
Whitby Town Council is little more than a huge liability, and former Mayor Councillor Heather COUGHLAN insists:
“But we’ve always done things this way!”
But Councillor John NOCK, who has received adverse criticism before on the Enquirer (more than once, during his tenure as a Scarborough Borough Councillor), disagreed with the Motion – stating:
“The current system ain’t broke; it don’t need fixing.”
Quite right, John – it needs scrapping.
(Councillor NOCK, a Conservative, is believed to be attempting to establish himself as the candidate-in-waiting for the NYC seat of fellow-Conservative, Councillor David CHANCE, at NYC. Councillor CHANCE is rumoured to be intending to stand down before too long, citing “personal reasons”).
Councillor Rob BARNETT expressed a different view to Councillor NOCK, observing that the Council was so dysfuntional and totally ineffectual that people had been stopping him in the street and asking him:
“Why do you even bother?”
He went on to suggest that the entire membership should resign en masse in order to facilitate proper elections, at the ballot box, in the hope that a fully elected membership, directly accountable to the public, might gain some credibility in the eyes of the public and the new unitary North Yorkshire Council, where the intention has been declared to devolve more power to local Councils. NYC would have to be stupid to offer any increase in powers to Whitby Town Council in its present format.
Councillor BARNETT pointed out that not one member of the present Council was elected by ballot. This triggered pure pantomime.
“Oh, yes we were!”, cried Councillor COUGHLAN.
“Oh, no we weren’t!”, replied someone else, sotto voce (I could not discern who it was – perhaps someone behind her).
As a matter of fact, the NYC website confirms that:
- at the 2015 elections, 13 of the 19 WTC seats were filled uncontested (i.e. no ballot): subsequent ‘top-up’ membership appointed by co-option;
- at the 2019 elections, 15 of the 19 WTC seats were filled uncontested (i.e. no ballot): subsequent ‘top-up’ membership appointed by co-option;
- at the 2022 elections, 15 of the 19 WTC seats were filled uncontested (i.e. no ballot): subsequent ‘top-up’ membership appointed by co-option.
Not a vote in sight. Democracy is conspicuous by its absence in Whitby.
But never let the facts get in the way of an avalanche of self-deception.
Councillor Ann BROWN commented, presumably (giving her the benefit of any doubt) with heavy irony:
“We are wasting our time on this. Don’t forget we are supposed to be working for the public.”
Presumably, Councillor BROWN can only mean working as a light entertainment comedy act?
Whitby Town Councillors really should consider themselves fortunate that they currently have no working video equipment (since shortly after the start
of the tenure of the current Clerk/RFO – notwithstanding Article 7 of his Job Description, which requires him “To ensure all Council property both owned and leased, is maintained to appropriate standards . . .”) – otherwise they could be enjoying the salutary experience of being likened to Handforth Parish Council (where one of their meeting-videos went viral), but with the name “Jackie WEAVER” being replaced by the name of any one of several WTC Councillors.
For the moment (i.e. until the next meeting of WTC) we must content ourselves with this concession to Councillor BROWN’s expectations:
One can laugh with people – or at them. The facts merit the latter. Except that it actually no laughing matter.