WTC – the blind shutting out the light?
An ‘In My View’ article by Nigel Ward
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
It is some time since I reported on the extraordinary antics of Whitby Town (Parish) Council.
However, my attention has been drawn to a recent instance of what a former Councillor described to the Whitby Gazette as “Whitby Town Council’s extraordinary affection for secrecy”.
Many readers will no doubt be aware of the ‘Council News’ article on page 12 of the Friday 25th January 2013 issue of the Whitby Gazette. For those who are not, I reproduce a scan of the article here:
The passages with which we are concerned read, respectively:
The full town council is made up of 19 councillors.
It meets on the first Tuesday of every month at Pannett Art Gallery in Pannet Park, starting at 6:45pm.
Members of the public are very welcome and you may be able to speak for three minutes each at the start of the meeting.
Just before these meetings there is a councillors’ surgery at 6:30pm, when members of the public can chat informally to their councillor about any matters of concern affecting Whitby.
Future of Whitby Town Council meetings in Pannett Art Gallery
Tuesday 5th February – Full Council 6:45pm
It should be remembered that the Whitby Gazette goes to press on a Thursday.
It so happens that on Wednesday 23rd January 2013, the Town Clerk Mrs Pam DOBSON published an Agenda summoning the Councillors to attend an Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council for Tuesday 29th January 2013 at 6:30pm. (Readers may remember reading about Judge David SIMPSON’s ruling on Pam DOBSON, regarding her competence and integrity, on Real Whitby, back in December 2010).
Clearly, the Agenda for the Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council was published before the Whitby Gazette press deadline. The Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council could have appeared at the top of the list of Future Meetings, thus informing the public of the departure from the previously publicised schedule.
It does not do so; nor does the information that the Councillors’ Surgery would therefore either have to be abandoned, or moved to an earlier time.
It is also worth examining the Council Calendar, as it appears on the Council website, where no meeting of any kind was scheduled for Tuesday 29th January 2013:
Now, the Agenda for that Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council happens to deal with a very important matter:
- To approve the 2013/2014 Budget and Precept in accordance with Minute 736/13 FGP (Financial & General Purpose Committee) Meeting 10th January 2013.
This is no trivial affair. It directly affects Council Tax and Council Services. Members of the public (whether or not they pay Council Tax) may well have a view on the recommendations of the Finance & General Purpose Committee.
They may wish to “chat informally with their Councillor” in the Councillors’ Surgery, clearly reported as being scheduled for 6:30pm – preceding Full Council meetings, which are reported as being scheduled for 6:45pm.
They may also wish to raise their concerns during the three minutes in which they have an entitlement to address the Full Council in the scheduled Public Participation section.
Unfortunately, that is not how it panned out.
Members of the public arrived at the Pannett Art Gallery at 6:30pm, hoping for both an “informal chat” with Councillors during the 6:30pm Councillors’ Surgery (as announced in last Friday’s Gazette), and intending to address the Full Council for the designated three minutes during the Public Participation segment – third item on the Agenda – which would normally take place perhaps five or ten minutes after the start of the meeting, traditionally scheduled for 6:45pm.
What actually transpired was that the Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council opened somewhat earlier than the 6:30pm start time stated in the Agenda, and in fact, closed at 6:32pm, with all business concluded – including the ratification of the Budget/Precept – without members of the public having any opportunity at all to ask questions or offer any input.
Such is the democratic process provided by Whitby Town (Parish) Council.
The reader may consider this trivial enough.
However, some Councillors do not find it trivial in the least, because the ratification of the Precept/Budget has now ensured that, in real terms, Town (Parish) Council services for the community (pitiful though they are) will be reduced in 2013/14 by a very significant degree – though the remuneration of Council staffing is to be increased to over 60% of the entire annual budget. That is austerity, Whitby-style. It is alright for some – even for one who is known for evasiveness and gross misconduct!
But let us allow that opinion to be publicly expressed in the form of a statement included in the draft Minute 736/13 FGP (Financial & General Purpose Committee) Meeting 10th January 2013:
In 2011/12 this council raised a precept of £229,000 from the residents of Whitby and budgeted to spend £139,100 on staffing. In 2012/13 this council raised a precept of £229,000 from the residents of Whitby and budgeted to spend £150,525 on staffing an increase of £11,425 or 7.6%. This coming year this council proposes to raise a precept of £229,000 from the residents of Whitby and is budgeting to spend £156,625 on staffing on increase of £6,100 or 4% this increase is to fund an office junior apprenticeship. A staffing cost increase in 2 years of £17,525 or 11.6%. In 2013/14 our projected staffing bill represents 60.9% of the councils total projected income, our projected spend on the provision of services is a mere £13,850 or 5.3% of our projected income. This situation is in our opinion intolerable and we cannot vote for a budget which increases staffing costs, nor can we vote for a budget where the percentage spends on provision of services to the residents is so pitifully meagre.
Cllr Amanda Smith
Cllr Steve Smith
So, with no member of the public allowed an opportunity to comment, two (out of only four – in my view – Councillors with the necessary financial acumen to analyse the Council’s budgetary responsibilities) have, as usual, been over-ruled by a majority – many of whom have no electoral mandate – who would, quite literally, struggle to organise an intoxication event in a brewery.
Readers who doubt my opinion could do worse than approach Councillor Dennis COLLINS or Councillor Terry JENNISON for a lucid explanation; they could consult The Bollard That Never Rises, with much the same result.