Tuesday 27th February 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WTC: Town Dev. & Imp. Committee 

February 12, 2024 Whitby Town

WTC: Town Dev. & Imp. Committee   

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD – the first in a series highlighting the utter redundancy of much of the Town Council’s internal structure and control.

~~~~~

Amongst its many futile activities, Whitby Town Council operates a number of Committees (and sub-Committees) that seem to achieve no purpose whatsoever.

One of these is the Town Development & Improvement Committee (TDI), known to some as the “Town Dev.Imp.“. (There are others, which I will cover in due course).

In the Council financial year 1st April 2023 to 31st March 2024, the “Town Dev.Imp.” (shorthand, perhaps, for Devastation & Impoverishment) has thus far met a total of five times, with another meeting scheduled for 20th February 2024, making a grand total of six bi-monthly meetings (i.e. as many as Full Council).

These meetings took place, or were scheduled to take place, on:

  • 18th April 2023 (Minutes archived here)
  • 20th June 2023 (Minutes archived here)
  • 22nd August 2023 (Minutes archived here)
  • 17th October 2023 (No Minutes available)
  • 19th December 2023 (No Minutes available)

The Agendas for these meetings take the following generic form (example from 18/04/23):

1. APOLOGIES
To receive apologies for inability to attend.
2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS & REQUESTS FOR DISPENSATION
To declare any disclosable pecuniary interests or any other interests which members may have in the following agenda items and consider any dispensation requests.
3. PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Standing Orders will be suspended for up to 15 minutes to allow for questions or statements about business items on the agenda, submitted by members of the public (limited to 3 mins per person).
4. MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON 17 OCTOBER 2023
To approve as an accurate record the minutes of the Town Development and
Improvement Meeting held on 17 October 2023.
5. CLERK’S UPDATE ON MATTERS RAISED PREVIOUSLY
Verbal update
6. RESPONSE TO HARBOURSIDE PUBLIC REALM CONSULTATION
To approve a response on behalf of the town council.
7. REQUEST
Submitted by a resident of the sheltered housing scheme at Meadowfields Court, Pannett Way, would like to apply to NYC for a disabled bay outside the property and is seeking the town council’s support.
8. REFERRAL FROM PANNETT ART GALLERY COMMITTEE
To ensure that the Park-and-Ride bus makes a scheduled stop at Pannett Park.
9. MATTERS OF REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE REQUIRED IN TOWN
Opportunity for members to highlight areas of concern which may be brought to the attention of the appropriate department of North Yorkshire Council.

The first four of these are standard ‘house-keeping’ functions to fulfil statutory requirements and do not directly address Developments or Improvements within the town;

The fifth, being verbal and unrecorded, is ineffective and redundant;

The sixth carries no more import than any consultation response by any member of the public and achieves the same degree of recognition;

The seventh is a matter for North Yorkshire Council over which Whitby Town Council exercises no direct control;

Likewise, the eighth and the ninth.

In short, nothing on this Agenda stands to empower the Town Dev.Imp. Committee to take any direct action whatsoever such that could be said to directly address or remedy any ‘Devastation’ or ‘Impoverishment’ in the state of the town.

It is a classic example of a ‘talking shop’, the only possible beneficiaries of which are the egos of the respective members, who are (according to the list included in the Agenda Pack for the Full Council (Budget) meeting of 9th January 2024):

    • Cllr Mrs A BROWN
    • Cllr Mrs H COUGHLAN
    • Cllr R DALRYMPLE
    • Cllr J HARSTON (Chair)
    • Cllr J NOCK
    • Cllr Mrs L WILD
    • Vacancy
      • Substitute: Cllr A Jones
      • Substitute: Cllr S Hinchliffe

This list of luminaries has now itself been rendered redundant in virtue of the resignation from the Town Council of Councillor Steve HINCHCLIFFE who, as is the case with a long line of former Councillors, has regretfully (if belatedly) recognised the futility of making any personal attempt to influence the Council – and, indeed, the persistent failure of the Council as a whole to achieve any developments or improvements in the town.

(Former) Councillor HINCHCLIFFE’s resignation has also created a vacancy on the Planning Committee, where he was a full member.

Despite (former) Councillor Peter CROFT’s resignation last September (2023), his name too still appears on the ‘up-to-date’ (as of 9th January 2024) list of members of Committees and Sub-Committees:

Not that I am suggesting that the absence of Councillors HINCHCLIFFE and CROFT will have a significantly deleterious effect on the negligible impact of these Committees, since the minimal (and generally unsatisfactory) activities of the Christmas Lights Sub-Committee and the Events Sub-Committee could (and should) quite easily be subsumed within the Agendas for Full Council along with Town Dev.Imp., whose earth-shattering substantive actions (i.e. Resolutions) – so far as can be known from a hopelessly inadequate 2023/24 Public Record – are listed below:

23rd April 2023

20th June 2023

22nd August 2023

. . . and there the Public Record runs dry. A six month delay in publishing Minutes is contrary to law and a matter for the External Auditor’s attention

QUESTION 1

I ask readers: does instructing the Town Clerk/RFO to write a handful of letters and a couple of invitations to NYC really necessitate the existence of the so-called Town Development & Improvement Committee (Town Dev.Imp.) – taking up the time of half a dozen Councillors and a Clerk, generating heaven-knows-how-much superfluous paperwork, and burning heating and lighting at the Pannett Art Gallery six times a year? My answer is “No”.

A well-managed Full Council could dispose of these matters in ten or fifteen minutes.

QUESTION 2

I ask readers: can anyone identify a single ‘Development’ or ‘Improvement’ brought about by the expenditure of all this time and money that addresses any of the ‘Devastation’ and ‘Impoverishment’ that progresses unremittingly, in plain sight, all over the town? My answer is “No”.

QUESTION 3

I ask readers: should this Committee be abolished and its trivial endeavours be addressed at Full Council – which presently meets only bi-monthly but should, like every other Town Council in North Yorkshire, meet monthly? Surely, that would be a more cost-effective way of achieving SFA. I say “YES!”!

WTC Councillors are keen readers of the Enquirer. Perhaps they should now assimilate the evidence presented in my articles and embark upon a program of invigillating the staff’s production of the Public Record, which at present is so riddled with error and omission as to virtually guarantee governance and compliance failures that must inevitably end up in front of the External Auditor – the responsibility for whose investigations (at £355 per hour) falls firmly on the shoulders of those Councillors who unquestioningly accept every document placed in front of them like the tablets from Mount Sinai (and the £355 per hour will be paid by Whitby’s Council Tax payers – no skin off the Council’s nose).
For all practical purposes, no Council the size of WTC should need more than a maximum of two Committees – the Human Resouces Committee (HR) – whose concern it is to appoint and oversee the performance of staff (the Clerk/RFO, the Deputy Clerk and her Assistant, and sundry other peripheral personnel) – and the Finance, Policy & General Purposes Committee (FP&GP) which oversees – or should oversee – the Council’s financial, budgetary and governance duties).
The diligence with which the latter approaches its duties may be gauged by the CANCELLATION of its meeting scheduled for Tuesday 6th February 2024, on the grounds that it was unable to achieve a quorum (four – being the minimum number of members present, from a membership of seven plus two* substitutes, necessary to conduct business lawfully).

(* – Typically, the header states “(quorum 4) (Subs 3)” – but only two Substitutes are listed. Inaccuracy is the order of the day in the WTC Public Record).

In my view, if not even four of the nine can be counted upon to turn up, following a formal Summons, it is small wonder that an Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council has been called (for Tuesday 13th February 2024) to consider, inter alia, Motions raised by Councillor RIDDOLLS and ABBOTT seeking (i) to hold the present members of the FP&GP to account on the grounds of their failure to detect and remedy a forty-thousand pounds plus deficit in the accounts relating to the Council-run public conveniences, and (ii) to restore some semblance of democratic process to the Council.
However, having briefly appeared on Agendas sent out to Councillors last week, these very sensible Motions have since mysteriously disappeared from the published Agenda.
How can this be possible?
This has been accomplished by what I would consider to be an abuse of the terms of the Council’s Standing Orders; in particular, as set out in the following excerpt from Clause 9:
Clause 9, paragraphs e and f (outlined in red) is clearly intended to provide a safeguard against the inclusion of any genuinely improper Motion on any Agenda (e.g. anything racist, sexist or defamatory, etc, in nature).
It was surely never intended to place control of the intended business of the Council into the hands of an unelected employee – the Proper Officer (in this case, the Clerk/RFO – Mr Michael KING).
Certainly, attempting to secure some accountability for a failure of oversight by the FP&GP Committee that, I would strongly contend, has detrimented the Public Purse to the tune of £40K plus cannot, in any reasonable application of the word, be considered “improper”.
On the contrary, Councillors Chris RIDDOLLS and Alf ABBOTT should be applauded for their public-spirited efforts. Would that there were more like them.
In my view, this shameful little pas de deux reminds me of nothing so much as the antics of Scarborough Borough Council, where the Officers protected the Councillors and the Councillors protected the Officers; “Eine Hand wãscht die andere”, as they say in Germany – “One hand washes the other”; the Officers protect the Councillors and the Councillors protect the Officers.
But who protects democracy? All credit to Councillors RIDDOLLS and ABBOTT for making the effort.
Clearly, to justify its existence, Whitby Town Council must streamline its operations, discard the dead wood, provide a clear and transparent Public Record – and, most importantly, get down to the proper business of representing the will of the people of Whitby and providing at least some of the much-needed services, maintenance and improvements that the town so desperately needs.
In my view, it is that or abolition via a Community Governance Review.

What is a Community Governance Review?

A Community Governance Review is a legal process whereby Principal Councils can create parish councils; review and change parish boundaries; and, in extreme cases, abolish parish councils.  The Council must ensure that community governance in the area under review reflects the identities and interests of the community in that area and is effective and convenient.  It is important that recommendations made through a Community Governance Review should bring about improved community engagement, more cohesive communities, better local democracy and result in more effective and convenient delivery of local services.

[my emphasis in bold]

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