The naming of individual councillors and officers in legal actions against Northumberland County Council has been described as ‘a worrying trend’.
The comments, by Coun Nick Oliver, came as the authority’s cabinet approved further legal indemnities for council leader Peter Jackson and chief executive Daljit Lally, to get legal advice and representation in relation to an employment claim from a current council employee.
The pair, along with the cabinet member for planning John Riddle, were previously granted indemnities after they were named as part of the High Court claim by Lugano over the handling of its Dissington Garden Village planning application.
At today's (Tuesday, November 13) meeting, Coun Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, said: “This is a really worrying trend on the back of the Lugano claim, which also named officers and members.
“An employment-tribunal claim would usually be against the council. In this case, it also names the chief executive and leader of the council personally. It’s virtually unheard of.
“I hope this claimant hasn’t been inspired by Lugano in taking this unusual step. Officers and members must be allowed to go about their legitimate business.
“All councils face tribunals and have a mechanism for dealing with that. If it becomes common practice to name individuals then it will become a distraction from the daily business of the council.”
The indemnities would be £10,000 in the first instance, but can be extended in tranches of £15,000, and would be subject to very similar restrictions as those previously granted.
A report to councillors said: ‘So far as the council is aware, the actions complained of by the claimant as far as they are understood, are actions which Coun Jackson and Mrs Lally undertook in the normal course of their duties for the council.
‘Given this, it is reasonable that the council provides them with a suitable indemnity in respect of their legal costs in respect of the employment claim.’
The indemnities in both cases would not apply if ‘their actions were fraudulent, deliberately wrong or reckless or not authorised by the council’.
Plus, if a court or tribunal finds that the trio ‘behaved improperly, illegally and outside their authority, then the council is entitled to be refunded all costs paid out under the indemnity’.
Coun Cath Homer said: “This is not commonplace. We should be supporting staff and fellow members so they can go about their business for the council.”
Coun Wayne Daley said that the fact this issue was being aired in public showed that the council was dealing with it openly and transparently.
“If there was wrongdoing, then people will have to pay for it,” he added.
But Labour leader, Coun Grant Davey, said that it’s time the authority agreed to an independent investigation into numerous serious claims, ‘which seemingly start at the top’.
He added: “If there’s nothing to hide, have a transparent and fully independent investigation and release the secret reports that you’re hiding from elected members.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service