Dispute rages on over Scarborough Council accounts as group of Whitby residents maintain their stance on harbour cash

A three-year-long legal challenge which means that Scarborough Council’s accounts cannot be signed off shows no sign of coming to a conclusion.

By Carl Gavaghan, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Friday, 1st February 2019, 9:13 am
Updated Friday, 1st February 2019, 9:18 am
Whitby Harbour
Whitby Harbour

The authority’s 2017/18 accounts are being held up as the council is locked in a legal challenge with a group of residents over how it classifies income and expenditure from Whitby harbour.

Accounts going back to 2015/16 and 2016/17 also remain unsigned as the dispute rages on.

The Fight4Whitby pressure group launched a legal challenge in 2016 citing the 1905 Whitby Urban District Council Act, which states that income from Whitby harbour must be ring-fenced for use within the harbour.

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The group has been crowdfunding its legal challenge.

Scarborough Council denies this is the case and says it has “robust” legal advice which backs its stance to include income from the harbour in its general fund.

This week, independent auditors Mazars told Scarborough Council’s Audit Committee that it was no closer to issuing a position on the accounts.

Mark Kirkham, a partner at Mazars, told councillors that the objector had informed the company they had evidence that backed up their case.

Mr Kirkham told the committee: “We were heading towards producing an updated provisional view and were getting ready to communicate that with the elector (who’s objected) with our provisional findings.

“We have now received some further information from the elector that there is evidence that the council’s understanding of what constitutes Whitby harbour land should be revisited and we have asked for that evidence.”

He said they could now not progress with the accounts until they had seen the evidence and had a chance to study it.

Mr Kirkham told the chairman of the committee, Cllr Tom Fox (Con), that they had not given the objector a deadline by which to produce the new evidence.

Cllr Fox added: “I think it’s important that it is time limited for [the evidence] to come forward.”

Mr Kirkham said that at this stage he could not predict when the accounts could be ready to be signed off.

He said: “We cannot give any time-frame as, once again, the elector has suggested there is material information that we need to take into account and until we have received that information we cannot progress.”

He added that if the evidence did show the council was wrong in its assessment of what constitutes harbour land then the company would be able to move an updated provision view on the accounts “very, very quickly”.