Secret taping prompts data protection probe at Norfolk County Council
13:41 13 February 2013
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Norfolk councillors have demanded a report into data protection practices at County Hall, following revelations that the authority’s chief executive had secretly taped a conversation with its former leader.
The existence of the recording made by chief executive David White came to light earlier this month at a standards committee hearing into alleged code of conduct breaches by ex-leader Derrick Murphy.
Mr White is already due to take voluntary redundancy in April and interim council leader Bill Borrett has confirmed that no further action will be taken against him.
But the episode has prompted “serious concerns” about the security of private information between councillors and staff.
Labour group leader George Nobbs led the calls during yesterday’s meeting of the cabinet scrutiny committee, which he chairs.
The committee agreed that a report should be produced to look at “the general issue of data protection within Norfolk County Council, particularly the processes, principles, practices, guidance and enforcement”.
Further to a specific question raised by councillor Richard Bearman, the scrutiny committee will also seek: “Any previous instances of people having their telephone calls recorded without their knowledge.”
Mr Nobbs said: “Without wishing for a second to revisit any business of the standards committee, I have some concerns which I know are shared by other councillors, about the fact that a conversation could be recorded without one party’s knowledge – let alone their consent.
“I am extremely concerned by this and I feel very differently about speaking to officers now than I did a fortnight ago.
“We also employ 7,000 people and I am concerned about whether staff feel that they are being recorded for anything other than training purposes.
“This has nothing to do with the standards hearing, it is a matter of principle. But were it not for recent events we would not have known this had happened.”
Mr Bearman said: “With regards to recording of phone conversations, we also need to look at how many instances there have been over the last five years, to avoid over-reacting to a very rare occurrence.”
The standards hearing on February 1 found Mr Murphy had breached the county council’s code of conduct when he asked his political assistant to claim it had not been the former leader’s idea to send a controversial email to the BBC.
Mr Murphy was cleared of six other alleged breaches, but, having already stepped down as council leader and chairman and leader of the Conservative group, he has since decided not to stand at all in May’s elections.
But a major revelation was that Mr White had secretly recorded a conversation he had with Mr Murphy about the email on April 27 last year, and had part of it transcribed, because he felt it was in the interests of the authority.