Dear Councillors,

I write to resign my position on North Tawton Town Council. I no longer wish to be a part of a group, who, in my time as a councillor and in my opinion, have shown little regard for the responsibility of employing a risk-averse approach to the spending of large sums of public money and the management of assets that are undeniably important to the town. 

It is unconscionable that there is such a casual approach towards due diligence and the care required for the principles of the office we are all charged with upholding. The lack of support over the recorded hate crime, the separate but equally impacting hate incident and the indifference to the public bullying and threats made to me is diametrically opposed to the seven principles of public duty central to the Code of Conduct. Recent apologies from a couple of fellow councillors were genuine but, unless made public, have little influence but are appreciated nonetheless, but I don't blame them for not speaking out when they have witnessed what happens when someone dares to scrutinise with conviction. 

I shall be calling for the District Councillors to initiate a Governance Review by West Devon Borough Council into the dysfunction of North Tawton Town Council with a view to it being abolished and for the Borough Council to assume responsibility. 

The principle that your decision must not only be right it must be seen to be right by the public is failed in a council where scrutiny is shy, where representatives are fearful of recriminations for asking questions or speaking up or intimidated into silence by a culture of bullying, poor advice and misinformation. The omission of facts results in inconsistent interpretation of procedure and policies, financial scrutiny and poor governance. This cultivates an insouciance towards researching to confirm advice given is either right or wrong which in turn appears to look to me like no one cares and if that is the case then why be a councillor? Where a lack of attention to detail prompts the consequence of costly mistakes being made. When public humiliation is promoted and endorsed by a loud and pub-gossip-swapping minority of voices serving alongside you, it is hard to be reasonably heard or valued for the contributions you make to improve the lives of the people you have volunteered to serve. 

In less than two years, I know that I have put in place greater financial safeguards, put the council budget under more robust examination which has allowed for a freezing of the precept this year. Why was it not frozen last year by the council when similar savings were verified and could have helped take some of the strain out of the cost of living crisis affecting everyone? I make no apology for prudent questioning of costs which resulted in a more transparent breakdown of expenditure, especially when it helped me discover an overcharge to the taxpayer of £6000 in staffing costs in last year's approved budget. We have to offer good value for money, and I would question, is the council doing that when we spend over 25% of our precept of £146,000+ per year on staffing costs in a town of 2000 people with a park, a cemetery, a public loo to manage and a Clock Tower? Five years ago our staff costs were £12,800 now they have ballooned to over £36,000 plus other costs but the duties haven't increased nor has the workload dramatically changed, in fact, a chunk of work has been outsourced. 

Is it value for money to have an office that opens for 6 hours a week and has a cleaner? Is it value for money to have recently installed expensive alarm systems that have an annual cost of £600 a year plus call out charges when accidentally triggered, especially when there is no previous evidence of break-ins? Is it value for money to outsource cemetery inspections when we paid for the training for staff to inspect them, or to outsource clerical work, or the answering of FOI requests when we have a qualified member of staff working 32 hours a week? 

Is it value for money to lose over £5000 in interest payments on council reserves. It is value for money for it to take a year to get hold of telephone bills that identify that the council has been overpaying for unneeded services like a listing in a phone book for £24.99 a month? We can easily save £600 p/annum for the taxpayer on the one phone line and broadband bill we currently pay £1200 per year for.

Is it right that greater prudence with the finances eludes us when we have 51% social deprivation and are the 2nd most socially deprived town in West Devon? Is it because I have challenged and discovered all these anomalies that I am having to take the decision to resign? There is much more to be questioned on the way the council is run and on the honesty and integrity of council processes. 

To recently have confirmation that the council can legitimately spend monies on council activities from the Durant Trust (currently worth around £300,000) for the good of the people of North Tawton should further reduce the burden of expenditure on the taxpayer and allow for bolder projects such as the cost of pursuing a weight limit through the town which will have the positive outcome of reducing pollution levels, offer protection for historic buildings from the vibrations and increase road safety and assist traffic flow. If used alongside government grants and s106 monies from the various housing developments around the town, the Durant Trust could fund a greener programme for North Tawton, a new park, EV charging points, subsidise solar panels for residents, a redesign of the Square, Christmas Trees and Christmas lights, benches - there is so much more that could be done in this Devonian little gem of a town. 

Securing a listing for the Lych Gate shall hopefully ensure a more considered approach to the maintenance of historic assets, and we should be pushing for a proper restoration of the painted wood, taking it back to bare oak, an option we were not presented with when considering the repair quotes, why? Why did we not wait for a listing and make a grant application to the Church of England? Despite all claims to the contrary, this was available as an option to us, leveraging the generous donation to secure additional funds could have returned the Lych Gate to spectacular shape and appearance.  The recent success of the Diversity and Inclusion drop in coffee morning demonstrates how the true heart of the town beats to a much more tolerant and quieter drum than those who decried the flying of the Pride flag or reject the embrace and value of a truly diverse and culturally rich, caring and friendly community and I was grateful to the four councillors who attended.

A year ago, there was a push for benches in the Square. I ran a consultation with the public and an overwhelming majority positively engaged and wanted benches. I regret that the importance of these benches for community engagement, social interaction, meeting the needs of residents has not yet come to fruition despite funds being there to purchase wooden benches and new benches having been purchased and placed elsewhere around the town but not the Square. I hope that the council acts on this with an immediacy that accommodates this in time for the summer for residents and visitors to enjoy our town.  

Finally, despite a nasty opposition from within the council and the stirring up of suspicions around the motivation to bring greater transparency to council proceedings the filming of meetings (a lawful right since 2014) has been a winner. Those who cannot attend have embraced the chance to watch democracy in action. The videos are a great record for reference of decisions made and debates had, and positions taken by the town's representatives. This should not stop now that I am leaving and I urge the council to carry on taping meetings for the benefit of the town and to create a digital archive for posterity. Streaming would certainly be a step in the right direction. 

When clear cases of direct discrimination are central to this narrative, it becomes difficult to see how anyone, regardless of the thickness of their skin, can endure the bullying and the hurt, pain and stress this causes. Untenably driven by fallacious and malicious tittle-tattle, the only choice for one's sanity and well-being is to withdraw from the assault of insults and remove themselves from further harm. Accordingly, I am resigning from North Tawton Parish Council. 

Yours sincerely,

Christian Martin 

North Tawton Town Council’s response to Mr Martin’s letter

North Tawton Town Council accepts Mr Martin's resignation, which is unfortunate as Mr Martin has a lot to offer the council with his experience coming from a larger council and contributing his knowledge to the benefit of the parish, including as a member of the Finance committee who presented to full council a zero increase in council tax for North Tawton residents.  North Tawton Town Council do not wish to comment on continued unproven allegations made by Mr Martin and wish him all the best in the future.