Clerk quits troubledtown council

Fresh fears for the future of crisis-torn Berwick Town Council have been raised following the resignation of its latest clerk.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 25 August, 2016, 08:30

Acting clerk Wendy Pattison, who has been under pressure from a number of councillors to resign, announced her departure on Tuesday.

But former mayor Hazel Bettison said she was ‘livid’ and blamed fellow councillors for not doing enough to protect the clerk from alleged bullying.

“This is absolutely appalling that the clerk has been pushed to this,” she said. “I hope those who asked for resignation are proud of themselves.”

Mrs Pattison had been at the helm since the resignation of her predecessor Sue Finch in controversial circumstances in early 2015.

“Two clerks in one term is a disgrace,” said Cllr Bettison. “We are supposed to protect our staff by law, not hound and stress them. The sad thing is it will cost the taxpayer even more money if she goes ahead, like the last clerk, to a tribunal.

“I can see us being taken over as a council not fit for purpose, which is sad when the majority of councillors only want what is best for their electorate and this town.”

Mrs Pattison had faced recent criticism after accusing two unnamed councillors of sending her ‘aggressive and bullying emails’ on a staffing committee agenda, although it was later withdrawn on legal advice.

Cllr Georgina Hill and Cllr Catherine Seymour branded Mrs Pattison as ‘unprofessional’ for making the allegations public, whilst Cllr David Blackburn, revealing he was one of the alleged bullies, had called on the clerk to consider her position.

The council has been in turmoil since September 2013 when it controversially agreed to take over management of the Portas Pilot, sparking concerns led by Cllr Hill about openness and transparency.

Cllr Hill felt Mrs Pattison had ‘done the honourable thing in resigning’ and wished her all the best for the future.

However, she added: “The underlying reason that Berwick Town Council can not move forward positively, and shake off its reputation as a rotten town council, is the on-going failure to follow proper procedures and good governance.

“We seem to have learned nothing from the damning Warren audit, nor have we affected the radical change of culture, as advocated in this report. The omnishambles budget process, where the precept requirement was calculated leaving out of the equation the small matter of around £200,000, is a classic case in point, and significant breach of statutory requirements.

“There also continues to be a culture of cronyism, where decisions seem to be being made by a clique in the town council office and then are attempted to be nodded through at meetings of the council proper. There is also the pervasive influence of supporters of the previous regime, who are still in denial about the extent of their maladministration.

“Berwick Town Council needs to change the emphasis from attacking those of us who are challenging what is wrong, to finally putting these things right.”

In a statement, Mrs Pattison said: “It is with very much sadness and regret I am resigning as the acting clerk for Berwick Town Council.

“I would like to thank everyone for allowing me the privilege to work for the town council on behalf of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It’s been a pleasure to meet and work with you and to also meet some of your families.

“I do feel that many good things have been accomplished in the 16 months I have been acting clerk.”

Mayor Ivor Dixon said: “I would like to take the opportunity on behalf of Berwick Town Council in thanking the town clerk for all her work in the short time she was with us. I wish her success for the future.”

Achievements

1. The Berwick Neighbourhood Plan is up and running

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2. A full report and review of the Council’s finances, regulations and procedures was completed by Mr Stephen Warren

3. A new pathway was built on the Quayside to assist easy access for elderly, disabled, cyclists and mothers with baby’s and was completed with the monies remaining from the Portas money.

4. Berwick held the first Teenage Market in Northumberland

5. A Floral competition for all shops and businesses was celebrated on Monday August 15th working in partnership with Berwick in Bloom

6. New Christmas lights will be purchased for the town in 2016

7. Repairs and painting of Berwick’s 300 seats/benches is underway

8. New litter bins and planters have been installed in the town centre

9. Oak trees were planted in Berwick, Tweedmouth and Spittal to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday, working in partnership with Berwick Army Cadets

10. A Berwick business conference took place in March and was a huge success with a small business conference planned for September 16th.

11. The Tweedmouth War Memorial has been fully restored by Berwick Preservation Trust, working together in partnership with Berwick Preservation Trust and County Cllr Jim Smith

12. Freehold Transfer of all Play Parks to Berwick Town Council

13. Restoration of Flagstaff Play park will be underway in less than 2 weeks

14. Tenders for Osborne Road Play park have gone out and will arrive to be opened at the end of August

15. Tenders for Grove Gardens South Play Park have gone out and will arrive to be opened near the end of September

16. The seats on Per Road and the Pier Road Shelter have been repaired

17. Town Centre CCTV now installed

18. New noticeboards in both Coronation and Castle Vale Parks

19. LTP requests for 2017/18 have been submitted

20. 2 Partnership workers were employed until the end of October