14 June 2013

Law-breaking Inside the Town Hall: Now it’s Criminal


Some articles on this site mention the police.  High Peak Transparency’s editor has previously been locked up in a police cell because of revelations that concerned public business.  Premises searched, files removed, computers taken away.  No charges have ever been brought.

It is understood that local police have now been contacted by individuals connected with the New Mills council with a view to stopping this site’s ongoing public interest revelations.

By contrast, law-breaking inside the New Mills town hall seems to go on without any penalty or sanction.

Criminality exposed

Under Section 117 of the Local Government Act 1972 it is a criminal offence for a local council employee to fail to tell the council as soon as practicable that s/he has an interest (direct or indirect) in a contract entered into by the council.

When the town clerk and Responsible Financial Officer Susan Stevens was passing the weekend High Lee Park toilet opening around amongst her family members, with over £10,000 of the public’s money spent so far, where and when was the town council given the necessary formal notice under Section 117?

When the deputy town clerk (where did that title suddenly come from?) arranged for someone to do work to an uneven flagstone just behind the town hall, and the invoice for £3,936 then came in from the family firm, where and when was the town council given the necessary formal notice under Section 117?

Any person who contravenes the provisions of Section 117 is guilty of a criminal offence.*

Agenda gap

New Mills town council currently ignores wrong-doing by its staff.  One of the reasons for this is that the current town clerk appears to be allowed to dictate the agendas for the council meetings.

All councils can only make decisions on matters that are explicitly itemised on the agenda, and the town clerk knows this.

Some councillors seem too frightened - or possibly ignorant of the laws of local government - to put the final say over agenda items back where the law requires it to be: with the chair of the elected council.

What comes next at New Mills council?

What on earth is New Mills town council doing having a Responsible Financial Officer in post who, on the basis of the evidence, is not professionally competent for that position?

Criminal law.  Inside the town hall in New Mills is it one law for them, and another law for the rest of us?




* Section 117 (3), Local Government Act 1972

09 June 2013

The Two Major Problems Inside the Town Hall Today: Dishonesty and Incompetence



We are told that several councillors are now determined to bring New Mills town council back to the good reputation it had before 2002. They want it to be well-managed, honest and transparent.  The questions are: 1) are they in a minority?  2) are they prepared to take the necessary decisive action?

A forthcoming article, ‘The Day the Dysfunction Started’, will give the inside story here of how it all started down the slippery slope to the sorry state this council has now ended up in.  The day was Monday 5 August 2002.  It is no coincidence that this was the first council meeting in which the current incumbent performed the role of town clerk.

Back to the present time.  Here are some examples of the actions, omissions and attitudes of the current RFO/town clerk of New Mills:

Deliberate false statement to councillors

The town clerk/RFO has made and circulated a deliberate false statement to the members of the council.  It is known to be a deliberate false statement because she gave the true facts in a signed statement to a court, and in a simultaneous secret letter to a former councillor.

The sole purpose of the town clerk/RFO in circulating her letter to the councillors was deception: she intended them to believe something other that the true facts of the matter she was writing about.

Public money questions

The town clerk/RFO has organised that payments of at least £10,000 of public money have gone to her different family members.  The full details of this are awaited.  See Where's Our £10,000 Gone? for what is known so far.

Obstruction of councillors

If a town clerk/RFO only tells the councillors half the facts, this can mislead them and cause them to make poor decisions and/or look foolish.  Poor decisions bring the town council into disrepute.

The latest example can be found at item 22 on the agenda for the next meeting*.

As it is has the longest description on the agenda list, one would expect it to contain the most complete information.  However, the lengthy wording by the town clerk/RFO in this case would appear designed to be a way of making one councillor look foolish.  Doubtless by co-incidence, this councillor has recently been vocal in proposing a particular measure, apparently against the town clerk’s wishes.

The issue that should be addressed by the agenda item is simple.  Most payments in the modern age are made by debit or credit cards.  Accordingly, the government is in the process of repealing Section 150(5) of the Local Government Act 1972, This is the so-called ‘two signature rule’, which acts as a bar to debit cards being used by local councils.

Both the National Association of Local Councils and the Society of Local Council Clerks have been kept informed of this repeal, and have issued prominent press releases welcoming it.

But what are New Mills town councillors being told by their town clerk/RFO?  Is the imminent repeal referred to in the lengthy wording of her Agenda item?  Here it is, verbatim:
22.  The use of Credit or Debit Cards.  To consider information provided by Mr B Woodcock the Council’s Internal Auditor that the provisions of section 150 of the local government act 1974 requires that all orders on the Council’s bank must be signed by at least two members of the Council.  This specific requirement currently precludes local councils from using a corporate debit or credit card (see enclosed).
The logs delivered to private property

The town council’s vehicles were used to deliver a load of logs to the home of the town clerk/RFO.

It is understood that the councillors - apart from Cllr Alistair Stevens, who is married to the town clerk/RFO - were unaware of the logs delivery until after the event.

The cracked flagstone that cost £3,280 (Plus VAT)

A Responsible Financial Officer’s legal duty is to ensure the proper, lawful management of the public’s money that the council holds.

At the back of the town hall, a member of the public joked that s/he should sue the council for a flagstone that was uneven.  Most readers will be aware of the 'trip and slip' legal claim scam.

With no quotes being obtained, a bill was received by the town council for £3,936 (£3,280 plus VAT) for doing some work.  Despite no quotes having been obtained, the town clerk/RFO told the councillors at a town council meeting that ‘You've had three quotes’.

This public money was given to a family member of one of the office staff.

When the councillors attempted to discuss the above serious matter rationally, the town clerk/RFO then did a disappearing act, claiming 'bullying' and/or stress.  The office worker whose family member had been paid wrote to councillors and stated that she was ‘disgusted’ at being asked to justify the spending of the money.

How is it that the RFO did not explain to an office worker that it is the public’s money?  Councillors are only entrusted with it: it is not their money.  It is certainly not the office staff’s money.

How can it be that the current RFO of the New Mills town council permitted such events to take place?


Summary

A large amount of public money is sent to this town council every year by High Peak Borough Council, in the form of a financial grant**.

So these continuous financial and trust issues are of very serious concern to the council taxpayers in the wider High Peak area, not just the area of this local council.

Any one of the breaches of trust or malpractices would be enough to risk dismissal in any properly-managed local authority.

Will there now be the necessary long overdue appointments by the council of properly qualified, honest, carefully-vetted professionals?

Unfortunately, some councillors (not all) display fear of the slightest 'upset' ever being registered by the current town clerk/RFO, and some councillors (not all) have a willingness to cover up wrongdoing in public office.

Labour Cllr Ian Huddlestone is in both of the above camps of unfit public representatives: he has now told fellow councillors he is staying well away from Monday's town council meeting* and will be ignoring the legal summons to attend that has been sent out to him.

The town clerk/RFO in New Mills is currently paid over £30,000 a year, plus the ongoing taxpayer-funded contributions to a fat local authority pension.


* Monday 10 June 2013 at 7:30pm

** Almost £100,000 in financial year 2013/4

06 June 2013

Good Versus Bad in Battle of the Town Hall


In the confidential part of an upcoming council meeting in a High Peak town is an agenda item that, to the passing eye, might pass almost unnoticed:
‘To note information received regarding a member of staff’
Nine bland words.

For the benefit of all electors and council taxpayers in the High Peak area, and for those people around the world who regularly view this site’s pages and so presumably have a historic connection with the area, High Peak Transparency can shed light on the three key words in the above sentence:

Information:  The information is documentary proof that the Responsible Financial Officer ('RFO') of the town council, and current town clerk of the town of New Mills, is a dishonest individual.

Received:  The primary information is contained in three documents that are the town clerk's own personal words.  The documents are: a statement that she made to a court; a letter that she circulated to all councillors; and a simultaneous secret letter that she sent to only one councillor.

Member of staff:  The RFO and town clerk of New Mills is currently Mrs Susan Stevens.

The above is Agenda Item 31 in the New Mills Town Council meeting to take place on Monday 10 June 2013.


Character test for the councillors in New Mills

Amazingly, the councillors are split into two factions on the issue of whether action needs to be taken regarding the above.

The good councillors are trying to establish an honest, open, transparent council that local people can be proud of.

They are being confronted and obstructed by some other councillors.  These are using diversionary tactics in an attempt to get no action taken.

The efforts at obfuscation by the bad councillors include the following lame offerings: ‘the information is from someone I dislike’ (irrelevant); ‘the events took place some time ago’ (irrelevant); ‘this complaint was dealt with in a court case’ (untrue).


Transparency in High Peak local government

Watch this space for the identities of the High Peak elected councillors who support the original dishonesty in this town hall, and the current attempt at covering it up.

Each bad councillor's political party will also be given high profile publicity.  This is because the character of candidates in elections is a serious public interest matter.



If any High Peak area elector would like a copy of the information that has been provided to councillors which has resulted in the above agenda item, please email highpeaktransparency@btconnect.com

03 June 2013

Where's Our £10,000 Gone?


At the New Mills town hall there is quite a large payroll.  Office workers, parks workers, a caretaker who lives in a house that comes with the job.  A former caretaker who the town clerk fell out with and who appears to be suing the council.

At the High Peak Borough Council there is another large payroll.  It includes staff whose function is weekend opening and closing of the public toilets in the towns throughout the Borough.

In the town of New Mills there are two public toilet buildings, a few minutes apart.  Both are close to the town centre. For ease of reference we’ll call them Toilet Block A and Toilet Block B.

HPBC staff arrive in New Mills every day, seven days a week, and open one of the toilet buildings.  Later in the day - every day - they close it for the night.  This is Toilet Block A.

But there are two toilet buildings.  What is the mysterious story behind the other one opening and closing every day?

Over the weekends, is it costing any money to open/close the second toilet?  It seems that more than £10,000* of the town council's money has been spent on the Toilet Block B weekend opening over the last six years.

Has this job ever been advertised?  Has it ever been offered to a deserving person who is struggling to make ends meet?  Has this task been delegated to parks staff, who after all do it the rest of the time?  Have local contract cleaning small businesses ever been invited to tender for this work? Has HPBC ever been asked to put Toilet Block B on its weekend round?  Has the town council ever been asked for its authority over the weekend payment arrangements, and if so, when?

Has this £10,000, in fact, been payments to family members of an officer of the council and a member of the council ?

The town clerk and her councillor husband - who seems to see his priority as being to protect staff when wrongdoing is exposed - have questions to answer over where this money’s gone.


* up to approx April 2013




01 June 2013

The Ordinary and the Extraordinary

The town clerk/responsible financial officer in New Mills town hall doesn't know - or wilfully ignores - the law.  Because of this, she is causing the town council, and therefore the public reputation of the town, serious problems on a regular basis.

Town and parish councillors are part-time and unpaid.  It is therefore essential that the highly-paid town clerk/responsible financial officer has a full working knowledge of the law as it applies to local councils, and follows it.

The subject itself is not complicated.  Also there is an easy to use, authoritative book* published so that town clerks and responsible financial officers always have the relevant law at their fingertips (see picture).

For years there has been a copy of this venerated book in the town hall offices.  But, judging from the evidence of her performance in the role, the book would appear to provoke an allergic reaction in the current town clerk/responsible officer of this particular council..

A potentially costly mistake was made on 29 January 2013, when town clerk/responsible financial officer Susan Stevens sent an email out to all councillors.  The relevant text is as follows:

‘This is to inform you that I will be calling a special Full Council meeting for Monday 11 February at 7:30pm, to allow the Council to decide the parish precept figure for 2013/2014.’

This begs two questions: Who is the clerk to ‘call’ a special council meeting?  What is a ‘special’ meeting?

Under the law of local government, there are only two types of town and parish council meetings.  These are ordinary meetings and extraordinary meetings.

The clerk cannot convene extraordinary meetings.  Only the chairman or any two members of the council can convene an extraordinary meeting.

The clerk can convene the ordinary meetings of the council, subject to its standing orders.  So what is a council’s ‘special meeting’?  No such thing exists in the law of England and Wales.

Neither the clerk nor anyone else ‘calls’ meetings of any kind.  Local council meetings are convened, not 'called’.

It is known that some councillors are getting heartily sick and tired of the town clerk/responsible financial officer’s antics that bring the town council, and the town of New Mills, into disrepute.



*Ninth Edition published 19/20 June 2013