Northumberland County Council leader assures 'good relationship' with chief executive after questions following leaked report

The chief executive’s disciplinary process – and the subsequent leak – sparked a series of questions at the latest full Northumberland County Council meeting.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 25th February 2021, 3:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th February 2021, 3:00 pm
Council leader Glen Sanderson said he has a ‘good working relationship’ with chief executive Daljit Lally.
Council leader Glen Sanderson said he has a ‘good working relationship’ with chief executive Daljit Lally.

However, in the main, it resulted in very few answers from the administration who outlined that there are still live issues and that it should have remained confidential in the first place.

As has been widely reported, the authority’s chief executive Daljit Lally was suspended in early August 2020, at the same time as she sent an email to all county councillors about ‘serious whistle-blowing concerns’.

This made public a major rift with the Conservative leadership, which resulted in a vote of no confidence in the then leader, Cllr Peter Jackson. Mrs Lally returned to her post in October.

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On Thursday, January 21, a private meeting of the employment appeals committee (EAC) took place, but the report was leaked to the press including the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

It states that the opinion of leading counsel was that ‘the disciplinary process adopted to date is unlawful and if allowed to continue, is likely to lead to unlawful outcomes’.

The authority confirmed that following the meeting, the disciplinary action against Mrs Lally ‘would be ceased with immediate effect’. However, the LDRS understands that some individuals have concerns about parts of the report and that they do not see this as the end of the matter.

During councillors’ questions at the full meeting on Wednesday, February 24, which were moved to the end of the five-hour session to allow the budget to be dealt with first, six separate members asked about the employment appeals committee or related issues.

The first was from Cllr Derek Kennedy, an independent, who asked if the current council leader, Glen Sanderson, agreed with the comments made by the former leader, Cllr Jackson, on the disciplinary action.

Cllr Jackson was quoted in the press as saying that he ‘received no detail of the outcome at all from the council which leads me to believe that there has been a large degree of political bias.

“As leader of the council, I was quite clear that I was acting on behalf of and in the best interests of the council when I suspended the chief executive in August 2020.”

In response, Cllr Sanderson said: “As you know, there are issues remaining around confidentiality, there are still issues which are live even though there was a breach of data, those issues will affect staff and will potentially affect legal issues which may cause damage.

“The process that was referred to was not part of the normal cabinet executive function of the council, it was run independently by the JNC (joint negotiating committee) and overseen by our officers.

“As part of that process, the outcomes of the EAC meeting were and remain highly confidential, so I’m advised that the comments attributed to specific members following the breach of data still remain a live issue.”

Similar responses were given to other questions, although Cllr Sanderson did share some limited information on certain issues.

Labour’s Cllr Kath Nisbet asked who wrote and checked the accuracy of the EAC report that was leaked, but Cllr Sanderson said he didn’t know as it was an independent process.

Her colleague, Cllr Allan Hepple, asked what support had been provided to the chief executive following this. Cllr Sanderson said there was a formal process of support ongoing between himself and the chief executive, and it would be up to her if she wished for details to be shared.

Cllr Susan Dungworth, the Labour leader, asked how the Local Government Association knew about the EAC meeting before the information was published on the council website. Cllr Sanderson replied that he had asked officers to look into it.

Cllr Brian Gallacher (Labour) asked why councillors weren’t told about the outcome of the EAC meeting after it took place. Cllr Sanderson said he asked if it could be shared, but was advised it couldn’t be. The leak meant ‘events overtook the proper process’, he added.

Finally, Cllr Liz Dunn (Labour) asked if the chief executive had the full backing of the council leader. “The chief executive and I have a good working relationship,” Cllr Sanderson said. “In fact, we have a good working relationship between all the cabinet and senior officers.”

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