The Labour opposition on Northumberland County Council has called for the chief executive to step aside and apologise for her ‘totally inappropriate’ email.
Newcastle-based property developer Lugano made serious allegations over the ‘unlawful’ way the Conservative-led council has handled its application for the Dissington Garden Village of up to 2,000 homes near Ponteland in May.
The local authority has maintained it has acted lawfully and appropriately, but in June, the company sent a letter-before-claim against the council as well as the leader Peter Jackson, cabinet member for planning John Riddle and chief executive Daljit Lally.
The council’s cabinet subsequently approved legal indemnities, with a series of restrictions, for Ms Lally and Couns Jackson and Riddle, although this decision is now the subject of a call-in by Labour, which will be considered by the corporate services scrutiny committee next Monday.
Last week, Ms Lally sent an email to all councillors in response to questions about these indemnities – £10,000 at first with additional tranches of £15,000 – in relation to the council’s insurance.
She wrote: “The council’s indemnity insurance for members and officers only covers acts or omissions that are as a result of negligent or accidental conduct on the part of the member and officer concerned.
“It does not provide any cover where the allegations made relate to deliberate acts made in bad faith or which are essentially unlawful or an abuse of power.
“I have been clear on my view that we must ensure that the council can function in an open, honest and transparent way and it is very clear that the current allegations are being levied in order to derail council process.”
But Labour leader Grant Davey reacted angrily to this email, given that Ms Lally is one of the three to benefit from the indemnities decision, describing it as ‘a complete misrepresentation’ of his group’s call-in and their intentions.
In his response, also sent to all councillors, he added: “I have asked you to step aside on this matter and concentrate on your alternative role previously, but this time I must ask that you do more than that and apologise for your actions and withdraw the inappropriate and risk-laden email and recuse yourself, because your actions are disrupting the processes of the council’s constitution and may be prejudicing a legal action which you are directly named in.”
A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “We have no further comment to make on this matter.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service