Thursday 29th February 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Whitby Electors call Town Meeting/Assembly

December 6, 2023 Whitby Town

Whitby Electors call Town Meeting/Assembly

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on Whitby Town Clerk Mr Michael KING’s proposal to increase the Parish Precept (local Council Tax) from £283K this year to £412K next – a rise of nearly 46%, following a rise last year of over 21%. Other public bodies are capped at 2.99% (Adult Services at 2%).

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For the fourth time this year, the people of Whitby are to obtain the opportunity to air their views at a Town Meeting/Assembly to be held at the Coliseum Centre, Whitby, on Tuesday 19th December 2023 at 6:00pm.

Attending a meeting of the Finance, Policy & Development Committee at the Pannett Art Gallery on Tuesday 5th December 2023, I was able to deliver a Call for a Town Meeting/Assembly bearing the signatures of around 20 Whitby electors. This was greeted with the by-now customary hostility.

Public interest has been aroused by the inclusion, at Item 11 on the Agenda (see page 23 of the Agenda Pack, here), of the Clerk/RFO’s draft Budget for 2024/25, the ‘bottom line’ of which – noting the staggering increase in the Precept (local Council Tax) – appears below:

Readers with a facility for arithmetic will note that an increase of £129, 065 to the present year’s Precept of £283,560 is a great deal more than the 21.5% attributed by the Clerk/RFO in the column on the right (above).

It is, in fact, (to two decimal places) 45.52%, as shown in the screenshot below:

Committee members would appear to have missed this gem.

Whether or not this huge discrepancy (between the Clerk & Responsible Financial Officer’s stated 21.5% and the true figure of nearly 46%) was simply a case of poor arithmetic (which would be of great enough concern in a public body with a turnover of well over a million pounds) or was simply absent-mindedly copy/pasted from the 2022/23 Precept increase remains unclear.

Certainly, it could not have been subterfuge.

What is clear is that there appears to be an alarming trend in the annual increase in the Precept.

The 2009/10 Precept – £180,000 – increased incrementally (and below inflation), at an average rate of just under 1.65% per annum over the following decade.

It is only under the tenure of the present Clerk/RFO (appointed on 30th March 2020) that these disproportionate increases have been imposed on the people of Whitby, morte than doubling in the past four years:

 

Significantly, staff gross salaries have also increased beyond all reasonable proportion, accounting for a staggering £258,040. Nice work, if you can do it!

On a brighter note, we are fortunate to enjoy the representation of Councillor Sandra TURNER, without whose keen questioning of the Clerk/RFO’s rationale for his draft Budget it would very probably have been passed ‘on the nod’ – as has generally been the case.

In fact, and subject to confirmation, there is likely to be an Extraordinary Meeting of the Finance, Policy & General Purposes Committee on Tuesday 19th December 2023 to revisit this fiasco ahead of the January meeting of Full Council at which the Approval/Ratification of the Budget normally takes place.

Considering the proximity of this date to the Christmas/New Year break, it may be that not all members of the Committee will be available.

Indeed, one would hope that at least some Councillors will prefer to make the effort to attend the Town Meeting/Assembly on that very day to assist in the discussion of  what I, for one, regard as an act of contempt – a punishment, almost –  against the people of Whitby who recently voted with a convincing majority (75%) in favour of our present Town Councillors resigning en masse to make way for a fresh start with a properly elected body of genuinely representative members.

Meanwhile, a deeper analysis of the Town Clerk/RFO’s draft 2024/25 Budget is available on the Whitby Community Network website:

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