North Herts council leader blames ‘glitch’ for unlawful allowance rise vote

PUBLISHED: 17:36 03 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:51 03 April 2018

Councillor Lynda Needham, leader of North Herts District Council. Picture: NHDC

Councillor Lynda Needham, leader of North Herts District Council. Picture: NHDC

Archant

An “administrative glitch” was to blame for North Herts District Council voting to raise members’ allowances unlawfully, its leader has told this paper.

North Herts District Council chief executive David Scholes. Picture: NHDCNorth Herts District Council chief executive David Scholes. Picture: NHDC

Council chief executive David Scholes told members by letter on Thursday night that the two-per-cent rise set to come in on April 1 was cancelled as the Independent Remuneration Panel had not been consulted before it was approved by councillors in January.

There has been outrage from the Conservative-controlled council’s Labour and Liberal Democrat groups, with calls for Councillor Lynda Needham to take responsibility or even resign over the error – but she told this paper they were just “playing opposition politics”.

“This wasn’t any political party’s report,” she said today. “They know as well as I do this was an officer’s paper.

“I’m surprised it has happened. I’ve been a councillor a long time and this is the first time in my memory that we’ve had this kind of administrative glitch.

“I’m pleased that we’re taking action, that no budget funds have actually been spent and that it was all discovered so quickly. I’m hopeful that it’ll all get put right.”

Listed as officers on the report were David Miley – who was democratic services manager, but has now retired – and Mr Scholes.

The North Herts District Council offices in Letchworth. Picture: DANNY LOOThe North Herts District Council offices in Letchworth. Picture: DANNY LOO

Mrs Needham said she was made aware of the Independent Remuneration Panel’s letter pointing out they legally had to be consulted on March 8, the day before she went away on holiday.

With deputy leader Councillor Julian Cunningham in charge during her absence, she said Mr Scholes arranged a meeting – the outcome of which she was told only last Thursday, the same day the letter went out to all members.

“I was not hugely in front of this,” she said. “I did not know this, and nor did the deputy leader, for weeks and weeks. We have not been trying to hide it from anybody.”

She said the Conservative group had put forward a fresh motion about allowances, and that they might look to “draw a line under this and start again for 2019/20”.

The two-per-cent rise was voted through by most of the Tories, with Conservatives Nicola Harris and Sarah Dingley joining Labour and the Lib Dems in opposing it. It would have followed last year’s 10-per-cent hike, recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel after years without a rise.

Councillor Ian Albert, finance lead for the Labour group, said: “Responsibility for this mess sits with the leader of the council. The panel should have been consulted. It’s typical of the way that NHDC is run – to ignore or to avoid consultation.

“We think Lynda Needham should resign. But that will not be enough or make a real difference.

“A fundamental change is needed in the way the council is run – to make it more responsive and accountable to residents. That can only come from a Labour-led council after May 3.”

Councillor Steve Jarvis of the Liberal Democrat group said this was “just another in a long series of mistakes” by the council, citing the Hitchin Town Hall saga and the introduction of the brown bin charge after a consultation in which 85 per cent were opposed.

“Now they have shown themselves to be incapable of ensuring that a decision that they wanted to take on councillors’ pay complied with some simple legal requirements,” he said.

“In a month’s time the people of North Herts will have the chance to decide whether they want this incompetence to continue or whether they would prefer to have the district’s affairs run by somebody else.”

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