Saturday 02nd December 2023,
North Yorks Enquirer

WTC Totally Dysfunctional

November 8, 2023 Whitby Town

WTC Totally Dysfunctional

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, offering an assessment of the pusillanimous way in which Whitby Town Council, at its meeting of Full Council on 7th November 2023, addressed the outcome of the Whitby Town Poll of 6th October 2023 – amongst other acts of extraordinary incompetence.

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I attended the meeting of WTC Full Council on Tuesday 7th November 2023 with low expectations.

A number of departures from legal requirements took place in regard to various Minutes of past meetings, which were ratified without appropriate and necessary corrections. This would suggest that members and staff were oblivious to the patent errors. As is frequently the case, Full Council ratified Minutes as a true record that are demonstrably false. I expect these problems to be brought to the attention of the External Auditor who, I understand, is presently examining a significant number of similar shortcomings already pronounced “eligible” in respect of the 2022/23 AGAR/AGS returns.

Setting aside these ‘technicalities’ for the moment, I intend here to concentrate on the matter of greatest interest to the people of Whitby, as set out in Agenda Item 9:

Interested readers will recall that a Town Poll was held in Whitby on 6th October with the following ‘outcomes’:

When the 7th November meeting of Full Council arrived at Agenda Item 9, members paid particularly close attention as the Mayor, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE, dealt with the Questions for Poll individually, commencing with Question One:

I was surprised to hear the Mayor, having read aloud Question One, inform members that the Council did not have the legal authority to ‘order’ Councillors to resign, asserting that it would be “illegal” to do so.

Turning to the Clerk/RFO, Mr Michael KING, for confirmation, members were advised by Mr KING that the Mayor was correct – sort of.

To do so would be “unlawful”, said Mr KING (i.e. not “illegal”).

Despite the Clerk/RFO’s advice, the Mayor persisted in his view that it would be “illegal” were the Council to ‘order’ members to resign.

But it is worthwhile pointing out an important distinction between “illegal” and “unlawful:

  • “Illegal” means that it is prohibited by a law, an Act of Parliament.
  • “Unlawful” means that it is not authorised by law because no such law has been enacted.

The Clerk/RFO, at least, appears to grasp this important distinction. At this point, I am bound to wonder whether or not Councillor DALRYMPLE has an adequate grasp of due process. I am not aware of him having received any training . . .

The Mayor then proceeded to read out loud Question One for a second time:

Clearly and obviously, Question One, as Resolved by sufficient electors at the Town Meeting of 5th September 2023 and as it formally appeared on the ballot papers for the Town Poll of 6th October 2023, electors have not called upon Whitby Town Council to take any action whatsoever.

Electors have called upon “the present members of Whitby Town Council” to “resign en masse. The Town Council, as a body corporate, has no part to play in it whatsoever – only “the present members

I was accompanied to the meeting by a friend and colleague – a former County Councillor, Andy STRANGEWAY, who is acknowledged to be very well-versed in Council procedure. Andy attempted to call a ‘Point of Order’ with a view to correcting this misunderstanding but was shouted down by the Mayor.

A nonsensical ‘debate’ then ensued – a melée – during which Councillors were heard to call upon other Councillors to resign – whilst clearly unwilling to do so themselves. But nobody pointed out the Mayor’s misunderstanding (if it was a misunderstanding – for all I know, it could have been a deliberate strategy to side-step the lawfully balloted will of the people).

And nobody proposed a Motion which, had it found a Seconder, would have necessitated a vote. Something rather like this:

“I Propose that the present members of Whitby Town Council accede to the lawfully balloted will of the people and resign en masse“.

In my view, there can be little doubt that such a Proposal would have been defeated by a majority who seem determined to cling to their imagined ‘power’ irrespective of the will of the people and irrespective of the moral imperative to uphold democracy. (That would, at least, have demonstrated respect for due process).

Thus, they would confirm the justification for the 75.5% who want them to go.

Had such a Motion carried, then all members – including any who voted against it – would have been bound by the Resolution of Full Council. Adios amigos!

In my view, the Mayor’s instructions to members (and the Clerk/RFO’s to him) were inadequate and incomplete and did not apprise members of the lawful opportunity to comply with the terms of the overwhelming result of the Town Poll. I will return to the Council’s treatment of Questions Two and Three at a later date.

For now, I will touch upon just one more absurdity played out at Full Council on Tuesday 7th November 2023 (saving several others for another day).

At last night’s meeting (7th November 2023) the Minutes of the Extraordinary Meeting of 26th September 2023 came before Full Council and were duly ratified (i.e. ‘written in stone’).

Unfortunately, these Minutes are materially incomplete. I draw readers’ attention to Minute 203/23 on p.13 of the Agenda Pack:

The Minute stops here; the rest of p.14 is blank.

However, I attended the Extraordinary Meeting on 26th September 2023 and I (and, I am sure, many others, can confirm the accuracy and veracity of my report, published the following day:

Once again, the Enquirer proves more trustworthy than the Council.

Quite clearly, though Item 203/23 is listed as RESOLVED, there could be no Resolution with a tied vote (7 ‘FOR’ v. 7 ‘AGAINST’).

The key event of the Mayor using his casting vote to carry the non-Motion is entirely unrecorded. Presumably, for the obvious reason that no action can or could be taken.

Thus, Minute 203/23 (like many others) is pure bunkum. It is inadequate and incomplete and certainly does not comply with relevant regulations. I expect this, too, will be brought to the attention of the External Auditor, PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP.

Small wonder that, as I made my way home, I found myself singing softly to myself that memorable pop hit of 1972, words and music by Gerry RAFFERTY and Joe EGAN (duly credited, below):

Well I don’t know why I came here tonight.
I’ve got the feeling that something ain’t right.
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair.
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs.

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right.

Here I am stuck in the middle with you.

Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you.
And I’m wondering what it is I should do.
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face.
Losing control, yeah I’m all over the place.

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right.

And you’re proud that you’re a self-made man,
And your friends they all come crawling
Slap you on the back and say:
Please!
Please!

Trying to make some sense of it all.
But I can see it makes no sense at all.
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore.

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right.

Here I am stuck in the middle with you.

[“Stuck In The Middle With You” –  © Gerry Rafferty & Joe Egan. 1972]

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