SECRECY: Barnard Castle Town Council's Woodleigh headquarters
SECRECY: Barnard Castle Town Council's Woodleigh headquarters

BARNARD Castle Town Council is embroiled in a staffing crisis with the organisation’s full-time clerk and deputy clerk currently absent for reasons which remain unexplained.

In order for the council to function last week, members had to appoint a “stand-in” clerk – Judith Mashiter, who oversees affairs at Middleton-in-Teesdale Parish Council and Startforth Parish Council.

The situation means the town council – which has an annual budget of about £230,000 of which £180,000 is drawn from council tax payers – is currently operating without a responsible financial officer.

The deputy clerk has been away from her post since February following allegations of an incident at the town council offices at Woodleigh, on Scar Top.

No details of what happened have been made public, with councillors citing GDPR regulations and staff confidentiality.

However, the council has spent thousands of pounds hiring a private investigator to produce a report into what allegedly took place and attempts at mediation have also been held.

Then the clerk was not present at the Aviation Day service, the 1940s weekend, which is organised by the town council, and both the planning committee and full council meetings on Monday, June 24.

Mayor Cllr John Blissett introduced Ms Mashiter as a “stand-in” but made no further comment as staffing issues were once again discussed in the absence of press and public.

After the meeting, Cllr Sandra Moorhouse who was the 2018-19 mayor, confirmed that the allegation relating to the deputy clerk was “still outstanding”. In a statement issued jointly with Cllr Blissett, she added: “Currently neither clerk or deputy are available and as you well know matters relating to individual members of staff are always private and confidential.

“Judith Mashiter kindly stepped into the breach when it became clear that no member of the town council staff was available to clerk the meeting.

“She has not been appointed on a short-term contract to deal with the council's business. We may need to use her services again but currently nothing is planned and a small residual budget was agreed to cover costs.

“In the absence of the clerk and deputy, we are following the procedure set out in standing orders. As I am sure you are aware the town council is functioning and carrying out its normal duties. It even successfully carried off the 1940s weekend. The town council has not released any confidential information regarding any costs that may be relevant to or the reasons why there are absences of any staff members. This is a staffing matter and as such is subject to GDPR and strictly confidential at present.

“We are not in a position to make comments regarding any staffing matter. All is confidential, subject to GDPR and the council is acting in the best interest of the entire staff and the residents of Barnard Castle.”