- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, investigating the wild tactics that continue to be used by Potto Parish Council to obstruct and circumvent due process, public input and the law – whilst apparently incurring yet more Audit Investigations (with associated fees, at £355 per hour) into these very same problems as have occurred over the past nine years. The details published in the Council’s meeting Minutes are both shocking and illuminating; I highlight some examples from the latest pantomime.
Of late, my attention has been focussed on Whitby Town Council’s descent into anarchy, but readers must not imagine that I have taken my eye off Potto Parish Council, where respect for law and order appears to have vanished altogether. Here follows Part 2 of “POTTO – Post-PIR Governance & Accountability”. (Part 1 can be reviewed here).
My attention was drawn to the stark juxtaposition of two adjacent items in Potto Parish Council’s draft Minutes for its September 2023 meeting:
Is there no member of Potto Parish Council with the capacity to recognise the insoluble dichotomy between these two statements?
I note that whilst Potto Parish Council seems to have received yet more Objections to its External Auditor regarding false details in its accounts, it has simultaneously published, in each of its meeting Minutes since February 2023, that it has completed/addressed everything required by the Auditor in the Council’s PIR Action Plan.
However, the Council has refused to confirm (even following a FOI Request) that Potto Parish Council’s PIR Action Plan, initially rejected by the Auditors, has subsequently been approved by its Auditors, as required by s.10(1)(b) Schedule 7 of the Local Audit & Accountability Act 2014:
I think we can probably assume, with a confidence approaching certitude, that Potto Parish Council’s PIR Action Plan remains invalid, unapproved and ‘not in accordance with the law’. Asserting that the Action Plan and the Recommendations within it have been completed is, therefore, an anachronistic factual inexactitude.
If the PIR Recommendations really had been addressed properly, Potto Parish Council’s Annual Accounts would now be fair, honest and accurate – which would mean that the public would have nothing to raise in future Objections (which is as it should be, and as it is at over 99% of UK Parish Councils).
But Potto Parish Council remains a law unto itself.
I will leave it to readers to decide whether it is the case that the Objections are valid – or whether it is the case that the Council’s unsubstantiated ‘opinion’ (that its PIR Recommendations are all addressed/complete) is valid.
If any reader remains undecided, the next examples may help.
The September 2023 draft Minutes also record:
This entry grabbed my attention because this Tribunal Case number seemed familiar to me – I investigated and reported on the very same Tribunal Decision on 14th July 2023:
One exceptionally diligent Potto resident had appealed against Potto Parish Council’s citation of one of the exemption clauses in the Freedom of Information Act (to claim the request was “vexatious”) and, even though the Council provided false and malicious information (which apparently initially misled the ICO into supporting Potto Parish Council’s invalid exemption), the Tribunal acted dispassionately and dismissed Potto Parish Council’s and the ICO’s input and unanimously UPHELD the resident’s Appeal.
Potto Parish Council’s assertions of the resident’s alleged “vexatious” activity were unanimously found by the Tribunal and Judge Goodman to be “not in accordance with the law”.
Quite so – the ICO Casework Service Guide states:
Furthermore, I understand Ms Sapna GANGANI, the ICO Solicitor acting for the Commissioner, immediately “acknowledged the Tribunal’s decision” (and thereby also belatedly recognised Potto Parish Council’s malicious and baseless propaganda to the contrary) and confirmed that the Commissioner “did not seek to appeal it” (June 2023), there being no deficiency or ‘point of law’ to challenge.
Nevertheless, Potto Parish Council’s September 2023 Minutes clearly record that Councillors “discussed the ICO appeal” (see excerpt above). The ICO’s Solicitor had confirmed three months earlier that there would be no Appeal, so I must assume that Potto Parish Council imagines that it is pursuing an Appeal – and, inconsequentially, it is seemingly attempting to lodge an appeal to the ICO, the body that has already raised the white flag!
However, Potto Council is, as ever, entirely misguided. The ICO cannot handle appeals, as is clearly stated at the foot of every ICO Decision Notice:
Unfortunately, it seems that Ms Joanne STOREY, Clerk/RFO at Potto Council, appears to lack the capacity to grasp or to follow these simple instructions.
I intend to report further upon this procedural farce after some further investigation work, as a Court Decision seems imminent.
Item 4.8 of Potto Parish Council’s draft September meeting Minutes also record:
However, Potto Council’s focus upon the requester’s location, rather than addressing the nature of the request, has again proved decisive – “the original responses were [not] correct”.
Again, if the PIR Recommendations R9 & R10 had been properly addressed, there would be no need for these Internal Reviews:
I have been following one of these information requests on WhatDoTheyKnow.com:
17th April 2023 – the requester asked:
17th April 2023 – Potto Council acknowledged receipt, but nothing more. I note that s.10 of the FOIA states that requesters should receive a ‘prompt’ response, or in any case a response within 20 working-days.
31st May 2023 – over 5 weeks later, there was still no substantive response, so the following chaser was sent:
27th July 2023 – over 13 weeks later, Potto Council responded, but without providing a single scrap of information. Alarmingly, I note that information about the Council’s finances and accounts was requested which could have been used to support Objections, but only within the statutorily constrained 30-day period of 26 June to 4th August 2023. I suspect this timing may well explain why Potto Council waited over 13 weeks before responding to this requester.
Obstructing the public’s access to this financial data throughout almost all of the Period of Public Rights is antagonistic and unlawful. I suggest it demonstrates that Potto Council’s significant weaknesses of Governance and Accountability; the basis of the damning 2022 PIR, remain current and undiminished. It also means that Question 4 on the Annual Governance Statement must be answered ‘NO’ in 2024:
Auditor PKF Littlejohn LLP has been made aware of this weakness.
I have investigated this particular example in some depth, as it demonstrates, without a shadow of a doubt, Potto Council’s ongoing breaches of the Law. Potto Council responded in a similarly obstructive manner to each of the other requesters – which explains why there were no less than five requests for internal reviews. I suspect the Information Commissioner is going to be busy.
The unequivocal fact is that the September 2023 draft minutes record the apparently unanimous decision of all Councillors: “it was agreed that the original responses were correct”.
However, it must be blindingly obvious to anyone of sound mind the exact opposite is true, which emphasises yet again why the damning 2022 PIR was justified and why objections have again had to be made to the false assertions in the 2022/23 accounts. I cannot discern a scrap of ‘structured learning’ by anyone at Potto Parish Council, as its handling of ALL these matters, as demonstrably recorded in its meeting minutes, remains entirely inadequate.
Potto Parish Council’s actions, appeals and meeting minutes give every appearance of having been carried out and written by someone for whom the intellectual challenges of public service have proved insurmountable.
The old adage seems to be true: One really cannot educate pork.