Withiel Parish Councillors have voted to pay more than £1,000 out of their own pockets after questions were raised about the way in which Parish finances had been handled during 2012.
At a fractious and bad-tempered meeting on December 12th, the council was asked how it was that procedures for the disbursement of money had not been followed, with the result that the Parish had effectively been rendered broke, with no money left to pay the clerk’s wages or for any other expenditure for the rest of the fiscal year.
The issue was raised by the former Deputy Chairman of the Parish Council, Richard Thomas, during the first part of the council meeting, at which members of the public are permitted to speak. He said expenditures had been made without regard to the processes required for handling public money, which included the advertising of work and invitations to tender, and proper regard for budget procedures. Who, he asked, was responsible, and how did the council intend to meet its bills in the coming months.
He was rounded on by parish councillor David Hore, who said the money was for work that had not been done while Mr Thomas was on the council. Mr Thomas said this was because there had been insufficient money in the budget to pay for it, a situation which did not seem to have changed. What the money had been spent on was peripheral (it was in fact for work erecting stiles on footpaths) – the questions concerned irregularities in dealing with public money. How, he asked again, did the council intend to pay its bills up to the end of the financial year?
The Chairman, John Piper, said a meeting had been arranged with the Cornwall Association of Local Councils to find out whether money could be borrowed. These borrowings could be added to next year’s council tax. Another member of the public, Patrick Malone, said that while borrowing money might keep the parish council functioning, it wouldn’t answer the basic question of why the checks and balances put in place to protect public funds had apparently been circumvented.
Mr Piper then began the official business of the meeting, which meant the public could no longer speak. After the agenda for the previous meeting had been agreed, Mike Biddick proposed that councillors themselves club together to pay the sum of £1,095 which appeared to have been paid in irregular circumstances. They would then personally own the stiles, and they could be ripped out.
Councillor Nick Mather asked whether the money had actually left the Parish Council’s account. Mr Piper said that while the cheque had been written and handed over, the bank had declined to accept it because there was something wrong with the signatures. Mr Mather then supported Mr Biddick’s proposal. That way, he said, the parish would not have lost any money. The councillors voted unanimously to pay the £1,095 themselves and have the stiles ripped out.
In the public seats, it was said that ripping out the stiles was an act of petulance which completely missed the point. When he stood up to say that the matter at issue was how public funds could be handled in a cavalier fashion without following statutory processes for their protection, Mr Malone was shouted down by the chairman because the public were not allowed to speak.


8 Responses to Councillors ‘to pay £1,000 parish bill’

  1. gailthomas says:

    It is staggering that the decision to rip out the stiles was proposed and agreed at the meeting. The sum referred to was for labour in maintaining/repairing the stiles and the removal of some old stiles. I understand that the materials were provided by Cornwall Council so surely damaging them in this way constitutes Criminal Damage. The Parish will be left in a worse position than before the work was done as we will have no stiles in places where the old stiles cannot be reinstated.

    I am personally appalled to hear that Councillor Hore, an unelected councillor, publicly stated that ex-Councillor Thomas did nothing when he was on the Council, a statement which incredibly was not refuted by the Chairman. Richard Thomas worked incredibly hard as an elected councillor and Vice Chairman for eight years. The Parish Council didn’t even have the courtesy of thanking him when he resigned.

    The Parish Council now appear to show little regard to their own Standing Orders, the Minutes of the meeting of 14th November which should be displayed within 14 days have yet to be produced.

  2. Nick says:

    The Withiel Parish Council acknowledges that it has made an error in terms of process regarding the cost of the stiles work, and apologises to the Parish for this oversight. It was carried out for all the right reasons and in the interests of the wider Parish community.

    At the December Withiel Parish Council meeting, Councillor Mike Biddick proposed to pay the contractor himself (the innocent party in all this) so that the Withiel Parishioners do not end up footing the bill through their Council Tax. This motion was supported unanimously by his fellow Councillors.

    We have subsequently consulted with the Cornwall Association of Local Councils (CALC) and they have confirmed it is acceptable that a Councillor takes the payment of this work out of the public domain so that he can pay for it himself.

    This means means that the Withiel Parish Council accounts will not go into deficit, although I would note that contrary to the recent articles on the Withiel Parish website there would only be a minor shortfall of ~£250 in the Parish Council accounts at year end, taking into account all predicted outgoings up to the end of this financial year, even if the full cost of the stiles was paid from the account.

    This shortfall is in part due to the unforeseen cost of elections prompted by the departure of Councillor Richard Thomas and the appointment of a new Parish Clerk (which had to be advertised twice at a cost of over £440). We will discuss the Parish Council accounts and the anticipated precept for next year at the Parish Council meeting in January. With the stiles cost not being met from the Parish Council account, there will be a healthy reserve to take forward to FY13.

    We can also confirm that the new stiles will not be removed.

    Nick Mather (Vice Chairman of Withiel Parish Council)
    on behalf of Withiel Parish Council

    • gailthomas says:

      It surprises me to read that the shortfall of 2012/2013 was in part due to elections prompted by the departure of Richard Thomas. Richard left, and was replaced, in the previous financial year 2011/2012. There was no election for his replacement as Councillor Mather was the only candidate.

  3. gailthomas says:

    In the light of some misunderstanding I would just like to make it clear that these are my own views and not the views of any other person.

    • gailthomas says:

      How ridiculous that someone should thumb down a straightforward comment like mine above – what is there to dislike about that?

  4. Ted says:

    I agree with Gail’s comments and although the attack from councillor Hoar was directed at Richard Thomas I feel it was also an insult Jeremy Faull and Jenny Pentland. Both worked tirelessly for the parishioners. I’m sure that with Jeremy’s wise council the council would not have taken the dubious decisions it has. One question, if footpath maintenaqnce is put out to tender does that include stiles? To my limited knowledge this has not been the case in the past.

  5. Ted says:

    My apologies to councillor HORE

    • thomas1115 says:

      Whilst I regret the additional cost of another meeting which the parishioners will have to pay for I do believe that anyone who holds a Public Office should know the rules. Not only should they know them but they should abide by them.I would ask that all members of our community take an interest and come to the adjourned Council meeting on 9 January

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