No banker’s bonus for 800-year-old town’s council

LAST August, Godmanchester’s ceremonial mace-bearer faced the prospect of carrying �20,000-worth of precious metal down Huntingdon High Street in a carrier bag after a bank refused to let him have its velvet-lined protective box.

Now the council says the bank refuses to let it have the 18th century mace at all, resulting in councillors having to meet ‘un-gowned’.

Who is to blame for the latest episode in the 800-year-old town’s dispute with Barclays Bank in Huntingdon is not clear, though an arrangement that seemed to have worked satisfactorily since the previous spat appears now to have unravelled.

Then, the dispute was over whether the mace-bearer could be entrusted with the mace’s protective velvet-lined box as well as the jewel-encrusted silver civic staff that dates from 1745.

This time, it seems, the bank turned away both mace-bearer Martin Williams and his deputy Fred Carter when they went to collect the device ahead of last week’s town council meeting. They were told it would be surrendered only to whoever had returned it after the previous meeting – town clerk Madelaine Liddiard, who works part-time.

Her assistant, David Roffe, told The Hunts Post: “We ring up 24 hours before we need it to let them know we’ll be collecting it.

“But, when both the mace-bearer and deputy mace-bearer turned up, we couldn’t get the mace out. They were told they [Barclays] would not allow the mace to be taken out except by the person who returned it the month before.

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“But these two had taken it out on numerous previous occasions, so we’re still having problems.”

Barclays said that, after last year’s dispute, there was a clear agreement that either of the two council signatories from the mace’s return the previous month could sign for it to be taken out again.

“The arrangement was that one of the two people who had dropped it off would be available. We haven’t changed anything,” said a bank spokesman.

“When that didn’t happen, we gave them the option of making the request on headed council notepaper, and the branch manager stayed late waiting for them to return.

“They wanted us to do something different [from the agreement struck last year], which is not something you do when you’re dealing with a �20,000 mace.”

Mayor Alan Welton – who worked for Barclays as a young man many years ago – said the arrangement had been that the mace-bearer would collect the ceremonial object on the afternoon before the council meeting. But, because he works away from the area, in Bristol, someone else would return it the following morning after it had been held in safe keeping overnight.

“It is an absolutely ridiculous situation. When I worked for Barclays, you could take anything from your safety deposit if you were one of the authorised signatories. And, as it happens, when Madelaine [the town clerk] took it back last time, she didn’t sign anything.

“I don’t understand the rationale. And, because the mace-bearer was not allowed to withdraw the mace, our last town council meeting was not a gowned occasion.”

The council threatened to withdraw its accounts from Barclays last summer, as well as the mace, a threat that Cllr Welton renewed this week. “It’s still possible that we’ll take our accounts away.

In August the problem arose because the bank adopted a policy of not accepting new safety deposits.

A spokesman said that the time: “In the case of Godmanchester Town Council, our staff did try to speak to the council three times just before they attended the branch to advise them that, if they took their box away, they would not be able to re-register it again due to the new policy.

“However, given the historical nature of the contents of the box we keep in safe custody for the council, we have decided that we will continue to maintain this service as a special exception.”