On the eve of the full council meeting (2 September) which potentially puts the leader of Northumberland Council’s role on the line, the Labour Group has restated its belief that the Conservative leader and his colleagues should put right what has gone wrong in Northumberland County Council.
In a letter to all Northumberland County councillors, leader of the Labour Group Susan Dungworth and deputy Labour Group leader Scott Dickinson said: “This is not and never has been an attempt to change the political control of the council. It would be neither right nor appropriate to do this, especially in the middle of an internal crisis and while we are dealing with a pandemic.
“We do not want to take over the council at this time nor set aside democracy to do so. The electors of Northumberland will make that decision in May 2021.”
In their letter they continued: “However, this situation cannot continue. We believe the council leader and some cabinet members have acted, and continue to act, wholly inappropriately in their positions and towards staff, and they should stand aside to allow others to replace them.
“We also believe the chief executive has been suspended without due process and allegations have been engineered to attempt to silence her. She is a well-respected and nationally recognised officer who works incredibly hard and we should be supporting her after she took the necessary steps to highlight a number of issues. She had tried repeatedly to get these issues addressed by the leader and cabinet before taking the whistle blowing action that has led to this turmoil. Her treatment by the current political leadership has been appalling and in breach of employment law and our own Whistleblowing Policy.”
The Labour Group leader and deputy leader have expressed concerns about employees of Northumberland County Council, asking how are they expected to feel about bringing issues of wrong-doing to the attention of their seniors when they witness what has happened to their chief executive.
Their letter continues: “To steady the ship and restore confidence in the council, we want to create some movement to allow the largest party to right these wrongs and get hold of this untenable situation.
“We want to do this in the interests of the residents and staff of Northumberland. We had hoped that internal action would be taken following the departure of two cabinet members, who felt strongly enough to resign, and that the leader himself would stand aside to allow his group to select a new leader.
“Unfortunately, to date this hasn’t happened.
“It is not too late for internal movement within the Conservative Group, but if this does not happen, we see no alternative than for the opposition members to unite and help bring an end to this period of instability and restore the political reputation of Northumberland County Council.”
The Labour Group confirmed that, whatever the outcome of the meeting, the council must pursue thorough and transparent investigations into all the issues raised and likewise Northumbria Police will continue to carry out its own investigations.
Leader of the Labour Group Susan Dungworth told Conservative councillors they should not let their leaders frighten them into a position they feel uncomfortable with, with false threats about this being a power grab by other parties and that nothing is wrong.
She added: “As the largest controlling party we believe you should have the opportunity to select another leader and cabinet to take the council through to the elections next year.
“We know that many Conservative councillors feel incredibly uncomfortable about recent events and the accusations and counter-accusations that have been so widely publicised.
“We need to take this opportunity to act decisively, make the necessary changes and steady this great ship. We know that, although we may have differences in political views, the elected members of Northumberland County Council have the integrity and ability to make the right decision and do the right thing.”