Saturday 18th May 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WTC: Much-Needed Town Poll Confirmed

September 8, 2023 Whitby Town

WTC: Much-Needed Town Poll Confirmed

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on a very signifcant public meeting held in Whitby on Monday 4th September 2023 – the Town Meeting/Assembly.

~~~~~

On Monday 4th September 2023, a Town Meeting/Assembly took place at the Coliseum Centre. The purpose of the meeting was to debate and decide upon a Question for Poll.

The Meeting was chaired by the Chair/Mayor of Whitby Town Council, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE.

Councillor Asa JONES acted as minuting clerk, or note-taker.

A few words of clarification (with apologies to those already aware):

Whitby Town Council is a branch of local government, established by Parliament on 1st April 1974, under the terms of the Local Government Act 1972. It is a legally constituted body corporate and the extent of its powers and responsibilities are largely set out in Schedule 12 of that Act, as well as other subsequent legislation.

It is for this reason that documents such as the one shown above must necessarily be set out in what appears to ordinary people as ‘legalistic jargon’.

It would therefore be inappropriate and unpermissible to set the Question for Poll in everyday language such as:

At first glance, the meaning is much the same – and it is far easier for ordinary people to understand.

But it is imprecise. What exactly does “this shower” mean? Or “just pack it in”? Or “make way for a new lot”?

What these examples have in common is a total lack of the degree of precision that is absolutely necessary in a local government legal document.

At the risk of sounding didactic, I would like to set forth a few lines of explanation.

The Question for Poll clearly must define loose concepts like “this shower” in the form of words “the present members of Whitby Town Council”.

The Question for Poll clearly must define loose concepts like “just pack it in” in the form of words “resign en masse(meaning all members resign at the same time)

The Question for Poll clearly must define loose concepts like “make way for a new lot” in the form of words “democratic election, by ballot”.

That is the way of  governance. That is the way of elections. That is the way of democracy.

It should be understood that the present Council was formed from candidates who stood for election in May 2019 in the seven wards of the Parish, but were “unopposed” and therefore deemed to have been “elected” even though no votes were cast for any of them.

Some of the seats on the Council remained empty because there were no candidates at all for several of the seats. Subsequently, those Councillors who were “elected unopposed” agreed to allow candidates who never even stood for election to join the Council by a process known as “co-option”.

The result is a Council of nineteen members, none of whom obtained a single vote at the ballot box in the May 2022 elections.

At the now-defunct Scarborough Borough Council, all 46 Councillors were elected by ballot.

At North Yorkshire Council, all 90 Councillors were elected by ballot.

Whitby Town Council has 19 ‘wannabes’ – some of whom (but only some) bring a great deal to the table.

Councillors Rob BARNETT and Alf ABBOTT believe that “some” is not good enough.

Councillors BARNETT and ABBOTT believe (and I whole-heartedly agree with them) that the present Council is not doing its job – representing the people of Whitby and managing the public purse in a responsible manner (as evidenced by the fact that the Annual Accounts are now under investigation by External Auditors, PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP, and will probably not meet the legal requirement to be ‘signed off’ by 30th September 2023).

Councillors BARNETT and ABBOTT believe (and, again, I agree with them) that part of the problem we have is that many of the present Councillors feel an unmerited sense of entitlement and very little sense of responsibility or accountability to the people of Whitby – who, remember, played no part in choosing them.

Councillors BARNETT and ABBOTT believe that ALL Councillors should represent the people – and be open to scrutiny and willing to be held accountable by the people – at the ballot box.

Councillors BARNETT and ABBOTT are far from being alone in these beliefs. I could easily name a healthy handful more. But the problem is that their efforts to serve the people of Whitby properly are always blocked by a clique – a slim majority – who vigorously oppose every move to improve the Council’s lamentable performance and are clearly unwilling to face the public at the ballot box – the present Mayor has admitted as much.

The Vote on the Question for Poll required, by law, only ten electors (or a third of those present – whichever is the less) to succeed – and succeed it did.

Thus, the Chair/Mayor has since confirmed that he has fulfilled his obligation to write to the Returning Officer at North Yorkshire Council, whose duty it now is to organise a Town Poll on the Question:

So the people of Whitby will have an opportunity to have their say on whether Councillors BARNETT and ABBOTT are on the right track, or whether the blockers are.

It seems like a ‘no-brainer’ to me.

At Monday night’s Town Meeting/Assembly, the blockers showed their true colours.

Members of the public were shocked by the attitude of the WTC Chair/Mayor, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE. Addressing the first item on the Agenda (to review the notes/minutes of the previous Assembly held on 23rd March 2023), he called upon people who had not attended that Meeting, and who had not had sight of the notes/minutes, to approve them as a true record – unseen. (A bit like saying, “Sign this blank cheque!”).

Those minutes/notes could so easily have been projected onto the big screen for all to see, but Councillor DALRYMPLE insisted it was not his job to facilitate that simple solution. So he did not display the minutes – but he did proudly display his Mayoral gold chain . . .

Members of the public were also shocked by the attitude of the WTC Chair/Mayor when he brazenly announced that, irrespective of the will of the people, he would cling on to his seat on the Council until May 2027, whether the people want him or not – and then stand again.

On Tuesday morning, the Enquirer editor forwarded to me an email from a Whitby elector who attended the Meeting/Assembly. I will not reproduce it in its entirety (lest I risk identifying the sender), but I will quote two short passages:

"I was astounded to read in one of your articles that from the £283,560
Whitby Town Council gets from the Council Tax purse, a staggering £246,000
goes on staff wages. Seriously? Do you have a breakdown for this figure
please, naming the snouts at the trough? Or better still, a copy of the
Town council’s accounts for the past year?

Also, can you shed some light on how a mayor is elected for our town?
Monday at the Town Assembly was the first time I had set eyes on Cllr Dalrymple,
and witnessed him in action. He came over as confrontational, pompous and not
engaging at all. Just focused on the procedural - behaved like a schoolboy in
detention who wanted to be elsewhere. Not impressed at all." 

Unfortunately, the individual salaries of the Clerk/RFO, the Deputy Clerk and whoever else appear to be protected under GDPR and cannot, therefore, be disclosed – ‘personal data’, don’t ya know? What is certain is that they have just enjoyed a 13.9% rise. How nice for them, in the midst of our cost-of-living crisis. What the writer did not mention is that, on top of those astronomically disproportionate staffing costs (7/8ths of the Council Tax revenue), the Council’s standing overheads amount to over £100,000 a year.

Clearly, the present members (or, more precisely, the controlling clique) cannot make a decent fist of managing our affairs. I expect that by now most readers will know that Labour-led Birmingham City Council has “effectively gone bankrupt”. According to NYC Councillor Neil SWANNICK [Lab.], there are another 26 Councils going the same way, including Kirklees Council (in West Yorkshire) and, closer to home, Middlesbrough Council.

Yet Whitby Town Council wants to spend an extra unbudgeted £30K on buying a brand new i-Pad for each and every member of the Council. Perhaps the Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer should have explained to them that unbudgeted expenditure is probited by s.49A of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. Yet when a local IT Consultant offered 19 tablets of equivalent performance for a tenth of that price, no response was forthcoming. I guess Councillors feel that only the very best is good enough for them. The sense of entitlement runs deep indeed.

Other unbudgeted expenditure includes the ridiculous notion that the Council should take on an extra member of staff for 10 hours a week to deal with Freedom of Information requests. As I recently pointed out to the Clerk/RFO, it was Secretary of State the Rt.Hon. Eric PICKLES who famously averred (back in 2010), that if Councils were to throw open their books to ‘armchair auditors’ (such as myself), resorting to the FOIA would be a rare event indeed.

But heigh-ho, what’s another seven or eight grand a year to keep the Council’s shortcomings secret?

Former Mayor, Councillor Linda WILD took a different view. “Members were eager to cut out low-value tasks and manage frivolous requests so that the staff can focus on Whitby’s core activities and serving the people,” she has told the Scarborough News (LDRS). I suspect she may resent members of the public learning how much the Council squandered on her gratuitous Mayoral trip to the Falkland Islands and other jollies.

And people were shocked when Councillor Asa JONES pointed out that the 19 members of the Council sit in 7 wards, so unless there was at least one extra candidate for each ward (a minimum of 26 candidates in total), then there would be no point in holding an election.

It astonishes me that anyone who claims to believe in democracy could regard elections as pointless. And yet Councillor JONES (who proclaimed himself a hypocrite at the last Council meeting) has recently taken up a party political position in the Social Justice Party, which is apparently committed to contesting the next General Election in the Scarborough & Whitby constituency at the ballot box.

It is comforting to hear that Councillor JONES wants to “give a voice to those who feel unrepresented”.

Returning to the vote on holding a Town Poll, as soon as the count was taken, the Mayor began gathering his papers and a member of the public (me) called out, with leaden sarcasm, “That’s it, you can close the Meeting now”.

The Mayor responded, “I don’t need you to tell me my job”.

Right.

Afterwards, I invited Councillor JONES for a coffee and a chat. He responded, “Nah. I’m alright, thanks!”. Hopefully, he will go far . . .

And Chair/Mayor DALRYMPLE, too, declined my offer of coffee and a chat. He told me he is “too busy” and anyway finds my reports “inappropriate”. Measured and just criticism is strictly Verboten at Whitby Town Council.

Following the premature departure of the Chair/Mayor, perhaps 25-30 people remained in the Coliseum and a spirited and free-ranging discussion ensued. Councillors and members of the public expressed their displeasure at having been thwarted by the precipitate closure of the Meeting, as other topics also demanded urgent attention.

In particular, Motions had been prepared to discuss other issues – most notably, two of the strongly-opposed Whitby Town Deal projects: namely, the proposed erection of a four-storey ‘Maritime Hub’ on Endeavour Wharf and the ‘gentrification’ of the Old Town Hall in the Market Place

I can confirm that Councillors Chris RIDDOLLS and Alf ABBOTT have since called another Town Meeting/Assembly – on Monday 18th September 2023, at 6:00pm, again at the Coliseum Centre – for the purpose not only of raising Questions on the opposition to the Town Deal projects (more on which in a future article), but in the hope that it will not be too late to add these Questions to the Town Poll already secured, thus saving the Council the expense of a second Town Poll in the not-too-distant future.

It may be that the Returning Officer will veto combining the Questions for Poll into a single election day, in which case the Council will pick up the tab for two Town Polls when one could easily have sufficed. In that event, I should hope that Councillor DALRYMPLE will stump up for the overspend – after all, it was he who closed the Meeting prematurely.

Since the Meeting, I have met with a number of present and former Councillors, each and every one of whom expressed their horror at the pathetic barrage of sniping by the former Mayor and, like all right-thinking people, sorely lamented the disrepute that this sort of petty Kindergartenpolitik is bringing upon the Council. It was shameful and it was embarrassing – but at least it revealed who needs to go.

I would conclude by urging all good citizens who are eligible to vote at the forthcoming Town Poll(s) to turn out in force and lend their full support to Councillors BARNETT, ABBOTT and RIDDOLLS, et al, and whoever else is willing to make a stand – over the Town Deal nonsense or indeed any other issue crucial to the town.

In my view, Whitby deserves better than the mud-slinging under-achievers who are presently gumming up the works and contributing absolutely nothing to the wellbeing of our wonderful town.

Scarborough Borough Council is at long last off our backs. And North Yorkshire Council is presently assessing how much responsibility and resources to devolve to Whitby Town Council. Or how much contempt . . .

There is far more at stake in this Town Poll than many have yet realised.

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