New Northumberland council leader hits back at 'poor governance' remarks
Northumberland County Council’s new leader has dismissed claims of ‘recent, shockingly poor governance’ at the authority.
At the September 23 full council meeting, Cllr Georgina Hill, independent ward member for Berwick East, asked: “In light of the recent, shockingly poor governance within this council, including the failures to give any explanation as to who refused requests for extraordinary meetings of the council and audit committee and on what constitutional basis or to provide any answers to questions around the process of the apparent independent investigation or assurances around its integrity, do you agree that this is totally unacceptable and how will you rectify the situation?”
Her question referenced the recent row between the Conservative administration and the chief executive Daljit Lally, sparked by Mrs Lally being placed on ‘extended leave’ just after she emailed all county councillors with what she claimed were ‘serious whistle-blowing concerns’.
It resulted in Cllr Peter Jackson being ousted as leader by a single vote in a motion of no confidence on September 2.
His successor, Cllr Glen Sanderson, responded: “The councillor knows that I arranged meetings for her with me and the acting chief executive to discuss some of the queries that she had.
“But I want to move on to the word governance and to me, looking at the dictionary definition, it can mean two things – the first being strong decision-making and service delivery.”
He went on to talk about the efforts of the council and its staff in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including recent joint efforts to introduce additional restrictions on a regional basis. Despite all that work, he said, day-to-day services continue to be delivered effectively.
“The second definition of governance is around effective delivery of projects,” Cllr Sanderson said, before proceeding to list the schemes taking place in Berwick and across the county.
Getting impassioned, he added: “Governance has shown us that we have had strong decision-making, effective project delivery, fantastic staff at every level, who don’t want to hear continued negativity, who want to start hearing positivity, so thank you to them, to their patience, to their continued hard work.”
Cllr Hill hit back by saying that Cllr Sanderson had answered many questions but not the one he was asked.
“I and others have had absolutely no answers to questions we’ve asked or assurances around process,” she said. “Do you not see that in a situation where you’re not getting any answers, where there’s no transparency, that people within this council and the public will be suspicious of cover-ups and stitch-ups?”
Cllr Sanderson replied: “I’m quite happy to debate with this member until 8pm tonight, or all night, or even tomorrow.
“The fact is that I arranged two meetings with this member and others, they had the opportunity to ask questions, they received answers. I allowed a follow-up meeting and if they still feel they haven’t had the answers they want, I’m more than happy for them to write to me again.
“But I will not have any negativity on my watch, I want positivity, openness and getting on with thinking about our staff and our residents.”