Wednesday 12th June 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WTC: A Wall of Pork Pies

August 25, 2023 Whitby Town

WTC: A Wall of Pork Pies

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, updating readers on encouraging developments at Whitby Town Council, the branch of local government that prefers to avoid engagement with the public.

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Since my earlier report on the bizarre Extraordinary Meeting of Whitby Town Council (WTC), held at 2:00pm on Tuesday 15th August 2023 (when many members of the public were unable to attend, due to work or family responsibilities), there have been a number of interesting developments.

To provide context, readers may be aware that MAZARS LLP, recently sanctioned External Auditors of the now-defunct Scarborough Borough Council, have been unable to sign off that Council’s annual accounts since the 2015/16 financial year, due to ongoing (and annually repeated) formal Objections relating to the Council’s mismanagement of revenues accrued from Whitby Harbour and adjacent land. An overview of that dispute can be reviewed here:

Readers may recall that East Riding of Yorkshire Council (also audited by MAZARS) has also faced a challenge to its 2022/23 Annual Accounts:

And readers may also be aware of a not-dissimilar state of affairs at Potto Parish Council, also ongoing for many years – annually, in fact, since the 2014/15 financial year – where their External Auditor (PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP) has also been unable to sign off the annual accounts (without very significant delays) and, indeed, has issued a damning Public Interest Report (PIR) that specified 17 formal Recommendations (which have been summarily ignored). That particular jar of worms can be reviewed in excruciating detail here:

Readers may therefore discern that an all-too-familiar ‘pattern of behaviour’ is emerging.
Returning to Whitby Town Council (for whom, like Potto Parish Council) the External Auditor is also PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP), a similar series of formal Objections has been lodged. I understand that all but a  few Objections have been accepted as eligible by the External Auditors, which is Step 1 of the 3-Step process explained in NAO AGN-04. I understand that Auditors make their best endeavours to complete Step 1 within a week of receipt; Step 2 within a further month; then Step 3 within a further six months. Consequently (like SBC and Potto), it seems unlikely that the WTC Annual Accounts for 2022/23 will be signed off by 30th September, as required by s.13(4)(a)(b) of the Account & Audit Regulations 2011.
I am at pains to point out that the disclosure of the identity of Objectors to Councils’ accounts is prohibited under s.5(1) of Sched. 11 of the Local Audit & Accountability Act 2014:
Level 5?
You have been warned!
As the External Audit charges additional audit work at a rate of £355 per hour, I would urge Whitby Town Council to publicly acknowledge the eligibility of the Objections and immediately initiate an action plan to properly and openly address each of the Objections. If this work is carried out urgently, with transparency, diligence, thoroughness and goodwill, that could stand to save the Council considerable embarrassment – and Whitby taxpayers a whole heap of money tacked onto next year’s Precept (as if £286,000 is not already enough).

Having been baulked at every turn by a covey of long-standing members who apparently regard the Council as a private members club (albeit one funded by compulsory taxation of the many), steps are now being taken to address shortcomings in the Council’s Policies and Procedures, by no means least the Standing Orders which, in their present form, have permitted the same covey of long-standing stick-in-the-mud members to hog Committee places and stymie efforts to make the Council more accountable, transparent and acessible to public scrutiny.

Thanks to the initiative of two of WTC’s more experienced and knowlegeable members (Councillors Rob BARNETT and Alf ABBOTT – both of whom have devoted many years to public service, not least as members of the Borough Council), who have drawn upon provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 to convene a Town Meeting, a call for a Parish Poll is now on the Agenda, on the very sensible question:

“Should the present members of Whitby Town Council resign en masse to facilitate the democratic election, by ballot, of a fully mandated representative Town Council for Whitby?”

Curiously, although there were also 38 electors’ signatures on the call, these appear to have been disregarded on the official documentation:

The Town Meeting will be held at the Coliseum Centre in Victoria Place on Monday 4th September 2023 at 6:01pm. The Meeting is open to the public but only electors of the Civic Parish of Whitby may vote on the Question – which, in my view (and that of all right-thinking Councillors), could fairly and fittingly be described as a “no-brainer”.

Interestingly (but unsurprisingly) the Town Meeting has yet to appear (as of 23rd August 2023) on the WTC Meetings Calendar.

One might be tempted to conclude that someone at the Council is less than eager to let the public know about this statutorily mandated opportunity to raise their voices.

It is important to remember that no member of the present incarnation of the Council (i.e. since the May 2019 elections) can claim to hold their position with the mandate of a single vote. (All were either elected ‘unopposed’ or co-opted by the croney crew).

Despite efforts by former Mayor Councillor Linda WILD, following her motion at the last Town Meeting (held on 22nd March 2023) – which I enthusiastically seconded – to reduce the membership to between 12 and 15 members, WTC still comprises a full complement of 19 members, distributed amongst the town’s 7 Wards, thus:

Amongst the 7 (or even 4) whose unelected presence Councillor WILD has proposed to discard, two could be said to be using the Town Council as little more than a stepping-stone to higher ambitions and two could be said to be little more than passengers on an ego-driven train that should have left town over a decade ago.

If 10 electors, or a third of those present at the Town Meeting (whichever is the fewer) vote in favour of holding a Town Poll, this must be conducted by Electoral Services at North Yorkshire Council under Returning Officer, Mr Richard FLINTON.

The results of such a Poll will not be legally binding on WTC members. However, having spoken to several who I hold to be of good conscience, I am confident that they will support the outcome of the Poll when, in due course, it appears on a WTC Agenda. If a majority of members of the Council vote and Resolve to uphold the outcome of the Poll, the job’s a good ‘un – time for a fresh start.

It will, of course, face opposition from the dead wood – who may have not yet realised that Town Meetings (and Town Polls) can be called at any time if either the Mayor, two Councillors or six electors give Notice, as provided under Sched.12 Part II, s.15 (1-4) of the Local Government Act 1972.

They would be wise to recognise that the writing is now on the wall (of pork pies).

In other news, having informed the Mayor/Chair, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE, of what I regard as a serious departure from proper process at the Extraordinary Meeting of 15th August 2023, and having obtained an important admission in his response, I hope that the fumbled mismanagement of the motions proposed Councillor Alf ABBOTT and seconded by Councillor Chris RIDDOLLS will be revisited, this time with a beneficial outcome. As I stated in my recent correspondence with the Mayor/Chair, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE:

“On a more personal note, having lived and worked in many countries – in many, many towns – in the end (like you) I have chosen to live in Whitby. Naturally, I want the best Town Council in the land. This aspiration relies on the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of the people, the integrity of their elected representatives, the obedience of Officers of Paid Service and a strict adherence to proper procedure.”

I doubt that the Mayor/Chair, or any of the other 18 WTC Councillors, will take issue with that – at least, not in writing. Some have already thanked me for spelling it out. Councillor Rob BARNETT expressed much the same sentiment in his recent Letter to the Editor of the North Yorks Enquirer.

But some Councillors may well feature in forthcoming reports. Some Councillors may read those reports with acute embarrassment – though, as always, they will be accurate in every detail.

Perhaps now is the time to remember that it is, and has always been, my firm policy not too pursue former public servants into the privacy and tranquility of their retirement from public service. Those in office remain, by definition, susceptible to scrutiny and accountability.

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