POTTO: Post-PIR Governance & Accountability
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, investigating the validity of Potto Parish Council’s claim, in its February 2023 minutes, that the July 2022 PIR Recommendations had all “been actioned accordingly”. (All Potto articles may be reviewed here). If this were true, the Council’s previous and persistent problems with statutory compliance and the integrity of its responses to FOIA requests would now all be history.
Readers may recall that Potto Parish Council’s damning Public Interest Report (PIR) exposed significant weaknesses of Governance and Accountability across all aspects of the Council’s business.
Some of the 17 Audit Recommendations for improvement included:
On the face of it, Potto Parish Council’s February 2023 meeting Minutes record purported compliance with the above:
These Minutes would suggest – to any newcomer or casual observer – that Potto Parish Councillors have formed the view that all of the many weaknesses identified in the PIR have been satisfactorily rectified. This becomes especially apparent when we note that “monitoring the effectiveness of the Council’s work to address the PIR Recommendations” has never even appeared on an Agenda (indicating that no monitoring has been carried out) – itself a violation of PIR Recommendation R16, which states:
Nevertheless, if Potto Parish Council had genuinely addressed all of its longstanding problems with regard to the handling of correspondence and FOIA requests, then any such matters arising after February 2023 should all have been handled professionally and lawfully.
Let us take a look . . .
I have selected this 25th April 2023 FOIA request https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/profile/sign_in?r=%2Frequest%2F975893%23describe_state_form_1because it exposes some interesting elements of how Potto Parish Council has handled Judge McKENNA’s Strike-Out (i.e. dismissal/failure) of its Appeal (about an earlier request).
Potto Parish Council confirmed that it was informed of the Tribunal Judge’s Strike-Out on 23rd December 2022, but, four months later, the Clerk/RFO had still not informed Councillors (other than ‘Dad’ – the Chair) that the Council’s Appeal had failed.
Clearly, governance and transparency, even between the Clerk/RFO and Potto Parish Council members, still remains woefully inadequate.
Potto Parish Council admitted that it had not contacted the original requester until 8th May 2023, well over four months after the Strike-Out decision was published. The maximum period permitted for the provision of information under the FOIA is 20 working-days.
Readers may conclude, as do I, that lawful compliance still remains (at best) a forlorn aspiration.
The last part of the FOIA request sought information to explain why this important Strike-Out decision was not recorded on any subsequent Agenda or noted in any meeting Minutes (even as correspondence received).
Potto Parish Council dodged this part of the request and claimed that “there was an agenda item for any ICO business” for the following months – a thoroughly disingenuous response that offers its own insights into the Clerk’s witting distortion.
The February 2023 agenda stated, see excerpt:
However, the Strike-Out decision was not “ICO business”, as the Council suggested, it was from the GRC Tribunal, which is, by definition and statute, an entirely separate and independent judicial body.
The fact is that the failure or Strike-Out of the Council’s Appeal continued to be absent from the public record on the (belated) date of the Council’s response (9th May 2023) and, despite the FOI request, it still remains censored to this day, as it is not an Item of business on the June 2023 Agenda.
Readers may conclude that Potto Parish Council’s accountability and transparency remain as areas of “significant weakness” (despite the Council’s absurd claim to have had them all “actioned accordingly” in the February 2023 Minutes).
I hope readers will allow a short digression, while I highlight the statutory requirements for Agenda Items of business.
Potto Parish Council includes, usually at Agenda Item 4, a list of about ten very short, generic and vague topics of business, such as Item “4.7 ICO” above. These vague topics cover just about everything that is possibly within the Council’s remit – the Agenda could as well state ‘anything vaguely to do with Potto Council’.
However, for business to be carried out properly and lawfully, each Item of business must be clearly and fully described on each Agenda.
The Local Government Act 1972, Sched. 12, Part II, Section 10(2)(a) states that each notice (Agenda):
- “shall specify the business proposed to be transacted at the meeting”.
If any business were to be transacted during a meeting that was not specified in the Agenda, that action would be ultra vires – unlawful. I understand that Sheena SPENCE, Chief Officer at the Yorkshire Local Councils Associations (YLCA), has offered Potto Parish Council copious advice over several years about how to address this weakness – it appears that such advice has still not been heeded.
I would suggest that External Auditors PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP may wish to note that, despite the PIR, Potto Parish Council is still refusing to conduct its business lawfully or transparently. And I would suggest that the PIR Recommendations have, quite demonstrably, NOT been “actioned accordingly”.
The applicable Case Law is ‘Longfield Parish Council v Wright 1918 88 LJ Ch 119’ . It notes that“business conducted without notice is void”.
Additionally, the Transparency Code 2014 states:
Readers may conclude, as do I, that Potto Parish Council’s attempt to claim that a vague and generic Agenda Item – such as “4.7 ICO” – is an acceptable or adequate means of publishing Judge McKENNA’s Strike-Out decision, is an entirely unacceptable folly.Such a claim indicates that the Council’s persistent failure to recognise, let alone address this problem, remains resolutely intransigent.
Potto Parish Council remains in breach of the LGA 1972, in breach of Case Law, in breach of YLCA advice and in breach of the Transparency Code, which indicates the PIR has not yet been addressed – a truly shocking example of failed governance and accountability.
Returning now to tha FOIA request: on 12th May 2023, the requester informed Potto Parish Council that she concluded the Appeal was not properly handled, the PIR Recommendations had not been carried out and that governance and accountability remained dreadful.
On 6th June 2023, Potto Parish Council replied and stated it did not agree with the requester’s conclusion; it claimed that the Appeal was properly handled (despite Judge McKENNA striking it out as ‘having only fanciful chance of success’), that the PIR recommendations had ‘all been adopted’ (whatever that is intended to mean)and even denied that the External Auditor had ever found Potto Parish Council’s governance and accountability to be inadequate. A litany of fantasy.
For a final antagonistic flourish, Potto Parish Council claimed that the ‘requester was misrepresenting herself’ (but offered no explanation as to how and no reason or evidence to support this stroke of malice).
Readers may conclude, as do I, that the Council’s responses to this FOIA request indicate an alarming level of self-delusion.
Lastly, it can be demonstrated that the Council’s handling of this FOI request – and of the Judge’s Strike-Out itself – were not a one-off failure.
The following data has just been published by the Tribunal:
This Appeal, against Potto Parish Council’s citing of a vexatious exemption (s.14), has been ALLOWED (about 90% of these types of Appeal are Dismissed). The Tribunal decision states that the Council (and the ICO Decision Notice supporting the Council) was ‘not in accordance with the law’ by attempting to claim ‘vexatious’ reasoning to obstruct a legitimate FOIA request. Judge C.L. GOODMAN determined that the requester is NOT vexatious, nor the requests. This matter may well be the subject of a future Enquirer article.
Astonishingly, this rather important matter of Council business (i.e. that Potto Parish Council had yet again been found to be acting unlawfully) has been censored entirely from the Council’s own June 2023 Agenda, despite the Council being advised of the Tribunal’s decision nearly a month ago.
This important Communication has even been censored from the Council’s published records of correspondence on the June Agenda.
Residents of Potto – and the wider public – will have no knowledge about any of these significant failures at Potto Parish Council – unless they read the Potto tab of the North Yorks Enquirer, where an on-going and in-depth vivisection continues to blow the whistle on the WILDE BUNCH’s world of fantasy .
It should be clear to all that the Potto Clerk/RFO still remains incapable of managing the Council’s functions – including responses to Freedom of Information requests – to anything even remotely approaching an acceptable standard.
Yet, astonishingly (to anyone unfamiliar with the long-established public service system of ‘Reward for Failure’), Potto Parish Council part-time Clerk/RFO Mrs Joanne STOREY – the Council’s only member of staff – having overseen the massive governance failures which led to the Public Interest Report and its associated Investigation Fees, has been granted, on behalf of the Council Tax (Precept) payers of Potto, a 22.5% pay-rise.
In this period of belt-tightening – the so-called ‘Cost of Living Crisis’ – the Society of Local Council Clerks notes that salary increases of up to £3.88% are appropriate.
But Potto Parish Council – i.e. the Chair (the Clerk/RFO’s father) and his sycophantic colleagues – as bearer of the public trust, finds 22.5% acceptable (as, no doubt, does the Clerk).
So much for the public trust. I would not trust the Clerk to run my bath.