Northumberland Labour blast council leader over report uncovering 'unlawful expenditure'

Labour have criticised the Conservative administration at Northumberland County Council after allegations of ‘unlawful expenditure’ totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

By James Robinson
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 10:29 am
Labour have criticised the Conservative administration at Northumberland County Council after allegations of ‘unlawful expenditure’ totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Labour have criticised the Conservative administration at Northumberland County Council after allegations of ‘unlawful expenditure’ totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A report from the council’s chief finance officer revealed two aspects of “unlawful expenditure” – one relating to the council’s participation in the Northumbria International Alliance, and the other relating to an ‘international allowance’ of £40,000 a year being paid to chief executive Daljit Lally since 2017.

The funds were reportedly paid on top of her salary – stated to be £190,000 a year as of that year.

The payments were allegedly made without the “proper authorisation” and contravening the council’s pay policy statements. The funding was related to her responsibilities undertaken with Northumbria International Alliance (NIA).

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While council leader Glen Sanderson said his administration “would not rest” until the matter was resolved, Labour members have hit out at the leader.

Cllr Sanderson had said his administration had only been in office for a year – but he took over as leader in 2020 after his predecessor, Peter Jackson, lost a vote of no confidence after suspending the chief executive.

A spokesman for Northumberland Labour said: “The political leadership seem happy to lay the blame at the door of council management and officers, many of whom have left or resigned so can’t speak up for themselves or state the facts citing bullying or political pressure for leaving.

“Other Conservatives who were in positions of power have different accounts of the report and very limited consultation has taken place with a select few. Opposition councillors were told they weren’t being consulted, they were being ‘informed.’

“In 2021 and again this year the Labour group asked for clarity and now what we’ve got is this remarkable u-turn and blame game; councillors claiming it’s new, it’s fresh and it’s transparent, yet they were all involved in the previous cabinet.

“The buck stops squarely at the council leader and the previous council leader before them, after all they were all in the same cabinet at the time in question.

“Over the last five years sheer political incompetence and consistent political mismanagement or interference has led to issues like this.

“They are ultimately responsible for the running of the council and they have, once again, singularly failed to do things properly and are looking for anyone to blame but themselves. This has been the same for five years of Tory rule in Northumberland time and time again.”

The Section 114 report does not “seek to attribute any individual blame or responsibility for actions or omissions that have led to the unlawful expenditure identified in this report and should not be read as such.”

Furthermore, it notes in the recommendations that the council “does not have appeared to have suffered any financial loss” and that it “may have been a net beneficiary of international consultancy activities.”

The Labour spokesman added: “The report shows the council made money with the work, to try and top up the savage cuts the Conservatives have implemented; it shows that internal and external legal advice was provided at the time.

“So, it might be good, in the interests of transparency, to share some of that and explain why a massive u-turn has been done on the status of this work. Opposition members are coming under increasing pressure from the public and staff to yet again take action and of course we will do all we can to protect Northumberland residents and council staff.”

Responding to the comments, a spokesman for Northumberland Conservatives accused Labour leader Scott Dickinson of “burying his head in the sand”.

The spokesman said: “The comments from Labour are very disappointing. They seem to want to talk about anything other than the unlawful activity pointed to by the Director of Finance and what is needed to put it right.

“It should be noted that Conservative councillors and other council members have highlighted concerns about this activity over at least two years and Cllr Dickinson has never expressed any desire that these concerns be addressed.

“In fact he has had his head in the sand alleging instead that his opponents have been bullies when in fact they have just been wanting transparency and the truth.

“The Director of Finance has carefully considered all the evidence available to her and taken QC advice in coming to her conclusions.

"Cllr Dickinson demeans her efforts and throws around politically motivated statements and to create misdirection.

"He seems unable to grasp the seriousness of this matter relating to activity that started under his time as business chair of the council in 2016.”

Northumberland County Council CEO Daljit Lally was contacted for comment on the report.