Friday 19th July 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

“The Best Town Council in the Land”

October 18, 2023 Letters, Whitby Town

“The Best Town Council in the Land”

  • – an Open Letter to the Mayor of Whitby by NIGEL WARD.

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Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE – Chair/Mayor – Whitby Town Council

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

Mr Mayor,

Please take note that I have not marked this email ‘STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL’. Please feel free to circulate it amongst interested parties (as will I). Thank you.

I invite you to recall that I concluded my email to you of 15:25h on Tuesday 26th September with the following statement:

“I have suggested to you (elsewhere) that it is my desideratum for Whitby to benefit from the services of the best Town Council in the land. Let us by all means work towards that together.”

It is a matter of regret that you have not entered into that spirit. I find it difficult to understand why.

Standards

Since your elevation to the position of Chair/Mayor, we have seen a succession of Formal Standards Complaints against members:

1) a Formal Standards Complaint (entirely spurious) brought by the Clerk/RFO against Councillor Mrs Hero SUMNER;
2) a Formal Standards Complaint brought by a member of the public against your predecessor, Councillor Mrs Linda WILD;
3) a Formal Standards Complaint brought by another member of the public against Councillor Joe REDFERN;
4) a Formal Standards Complaint brought by a member against Councillor Michael HARRISON.

Against this ignomious backdrop, we now find circulating in the public domain a rather puerile breach of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct by Councillor John NOCK, whose previous experiences in respect of his imprudent efforts to ameliorate the despicable conduct of  former Scarborough Borough Councillor, Mayor and Alderman (and member of North Yorkshire Count Council) Peter JACONELLI appear to have left him unchastened.

It should hardly have been necessary for you to caution Councillor NOCK to avoid using his Council email address (in an email timed and dated at 14:39h on Tuesday 17th October 2023) to propagate his grudge against Councillor Rob BARNETT – for lodging a fully justified Formal Standards Complaint against Councillor Nock, and against me – for reporting his unforgiveable lapse in the public domain (here and here).

The following extract from Councillor NOCK’s email of 17th October 2023 is illustrative:

“Nigel Ward, Cllr Barnett and another attendee twice went outside to smoke whilst guest speakers had the floor. On one occasion Mr Ward apologised for missing part of what had been said, making a joke that he had been outside smoking. This was an insult to the speakers and disrespectful to those who remained seated.”

At the risk of sinking to Councillor NOCK’s level of pettiness, I would state in my defence that there is no prohibition against smoking outdoors; there is no prohibition against introducing a note of levity (that raised a ripple of appreciative mirth) into a public meeting. One would have to be extraordinarily thin-skinned (or embittered) to have felt in any way insulted.

But Councillor NOCK has apparently not acquainted himself with the terms of Lord NOLAN’s Principles, which I contend he has clearly breached at Article 1.4, a well as the NALC Civility & Respect Pledge, virtually throughout. I trust I can rely on you to pursue the formalities of a Code of Conduct Complaint against Councillor NOCK?

In March 2021, the Local Government Association launched a new inititaive on Standards with the following Objectives:

I ask you, Mr Mayor, can you, in good conscience, assure me that the present Whitby Town Council stands even amongst the lower foothills of these lofty aspirations?

Surely not.

Investigations

Anyone with the merest hint of appreciation of the importance of good Standards in Public Life must recognise, without recourse to the Government Guidance, that a member who has both privately and publicly evinced extreme personal animus against a Complainant, breaching the Councillors’ Code of Conduct in the process, cannot conceivably preside over an investigation into a fully-evidenced Formal Corporate Complaint against a member of staff.

Nevertheless, for those who fall outside of that broad description, allow me to quote:

“If you have a pecuniary, or private or personal non-pecuniary, interest in a matter being considered by your council, you should exclude yourself from discussions and decisions on that matter”.

Thus, there is no room for debate; the Chair of Human Resources MUST recuse herself from any part in that Formal Investigation. I trust I can rely on you to pursue the formalities of securing Councillor WILD’s recusal?

Your own duty, as set out in 1.7(b) of the NOLAN Principles, is equally clear:

“To actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs”.

You can hardly claim that there has occurred no “poor behaviour” for you to challenge, Mr Mayor; you are surrounded by and immersed in “poor behaviour”. You must now “challenge” that “poor behaviour”.

Empty Motions

At a time unique in the past 49 years, when the Town Council should be at its most pro-active, your brief tenure has been characterised by a series of empty Motions so devoid of serious purpose as to amplify the ubiquitous public perception that Whitby Town Council is now totally redundant.

1) the proposed purchase of 19 top-of-the-range iPad tablets – a proposal for which (contrary to s.49A of the Local Government Finance Act 1992) no budgetary provision had been predicated;

2) the proposed limitation on second homes – a proposal over which neither the Town Council nor North Yorkshire Council holds any authority (Mr Andrew ROWE, North Yorkshire Council’s Assistant Director for Housing, stated that while the authority “fully understood” the housing pressures in Whitby, it was not “a simple matter of us prioritising social housing over private housing” and added that the council had to work “within the boundaries of the national legislation”;

3) the proposed appointment of an ‘extra’ member of staff to undertake Data Controller duties (a role that is already identified within the Clerk/RFO’s Job Description) in respect of an alleged (but indeterminate) increase in Freedom of Information requests;

4) the proposed call for the resignation of unidentified members allegedly ‘guilty’ of exercising their  statutory rights to convene meetings;

5) the proposed ‘request’ to NYC Officers to “answer questions” over unsubstantiated allegations regarding Whitby market-traders – a proposal, once  again, to address an indeterminate issue over which the Town Council has no authority.

These ‘Motions’ are purposeless and incoherent; that they ever found their way into the official documentation of a local government authority demeans the Council and drives it into disrepute. They are the follies of untrained members abetted by an unqualified Clerk/RFO. Meanwhile, important issues over which the Council does have powers to act remain unaddressed and disregarded.

Mr Mayor, residents are asking whether or not the Council has taken leave of its senses. How should I answer them?

Finances

Unbeknownst to the public, Whitby Town Council is proposing (conservatively) to raise the Precept over the next four years from £283,560 to £329,247. None of this increase takes into account External Auditor PKF LITTLEJOHN’s projected Audit Investigation Fees that, at  £2,485.00 + VAT per day, could easily amount to 10% or even 20% of that Precept total. Yet during this same period, Staffing Costs will rise from the present (already astronomical) £246,000 to £271,065.

Since the Annual Meeting of 2nd May 2023, scarcely a week has gone by without new ‘weaknesses’ in governance compliance coming to light. These ‘weaknesses’ are logged and evidenced and will (barring an open and transparent admission of governance failure) potentially result in Objections to the AGAR/AGS next year, thus assuring a further delay in the Council’s Annual Accounts being ‘signed off’, with concomitant Investigation fees and scant prospect of improvement in the 2024/25 financial year. Shameful. As Lord NOLAN’s Principles state (and lest you have forgotten):

“All public-office holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resouces.”

Yet you have been strident in your refusal to accord any consideration to the views of the people of Whitby, three out of four of whom support the en masse resignation of the present members. 

Councillor Asa JONES, clearly without mandate from the Council (and thus in breach of the Council’s Media Policy) has decried a democratic process (a Parish Poll) enshrined in statute (the Local Government Act 1972) as “pathetic”. How silly.

The catalogue of catastophe that faces you now coincides with the yesterday’s news report (17th October 2023):

[NYC Leader] Councillor Carl Les said while local handling of services such as parks and public toilets could lead to improvements for residents, it would be “healthier” if more parish and town councillors making significant financial decisions on behalf of taxpayers had a democratic mandate.

“It would be healthier if people were elected and therefore had some sort of mandate to act. The more powers we give to people you have to hope the more people would want to be part of that process. Councillor Carl Les said while local handing of services such as parks and public toilets could lead to improvements for residents, it would be “healthier” if more parish and town councillors making significant financial decisions on behalf of taxpayers had a democratic mandate.

Thus, the Leader of North Yorkshire Council, the unitary authority, supports my view that (contrary to your plaintive cry that “uncontested election” is the bee’s knees) a democratic mandate is the epitome of public service. Are you and your members afraid to face the electorate? Are you afraid that the electorate may be unimpressed by your efforts thus far?
And I wonder if Councillor LES is aware that it is only a so-called ‘donation’ from the ‘ring-fenced’ revenue from Whitby’s Public Toilets Reserve that is sparing the Town Council a further £96,000 budgetary ‘bodge’ (16 years at £6,000 per annum for the East Pier Footbridge installments). Why did the Town Council commit electors to financing maintenance work that is unequivocally within the remit of the Harbour Authority?
How do you react to Councillor Asa JONES’ juvenile challenge to Councillor RIDDOLLS?
“I have been clear from the start, if the incumbent Cllr for White Leys Ward (Cllr Riddolls) resigns then I too shall resign and fight the by-election for that seat.”
Perhaps the unmandated Councillor JONES could back up his rhetorical schoolboy challenge by resigning his West Cliff seat and inviting Councillor RIDDOLLS to contest the ensuing West Cliff casual vacancy? Whitby awaits . . .
A Council that does not trust the electorate to elect its members – then resorts to co-opting irresponsible tyros – has only itself to blame for being mistrusted and widely derided.
Come and have a coffee, Bob. Let me hear you defend your position.
Kind regards,
Nigel

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