Tension grows over job cuts at Broadland District Council

While proposed job losses may be delayed until after Christmas, it's not quite the early gift that will lift the tension at Broadland District Council.

In recent days Conservative deputy leader Jo Cottingham has been accused at full council of claiming she previously wanted to get rid of a member of staff – who is now at risk of redundancy.

Another cabinet member, Kim Davis-Claydon, resigned not only as operations and resources portfolio holder, but also from the Tories entirely. She has yet to be replaced, with council leader Andrew Proctor announcing he would be assessing the role.

Councillors have also told of their dismay at how a staff redundancy programme has been carried out and their fears they could lose the trust of staff. They've also insisted job losses or changes to services must never be handled in the same way again.

At the heart of the angst hanging over Broadland is how proposals to disband its strategy, community and housing service emerged, which has left four staff members facing the axe.

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News first broke in mid-September that changes were proposed.

Many people expressed surprise at the announcement. The opposition Liberal Democrats stated they were under the impression during February's budget planning that no job cuts were necessary for 2012/13.

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Broadland very much prides itself on how it approaches saving cash, without simply cutting staff numbers.

This includes investigating how the authority works and trying to find ways of making services easier to use for people – which can also cut costs.

Unison and staff have not shied away from the fact that cuts to job numbers may be required – particularly with the massive spending reductions for local government.

There are 29 workers in the department affected out of Broadland's near 300-person workforce.

Consultation with staff has taken place, although this occurred after a plan for how the department, established 12 months ago, could change had been announced.

Full council was expected to approve the job cuts last week. Instead, an amendment by Tory leader Mr Proctor was agreed, which will see further work conducted and report back in January.

The full council meeting on Tuesday, November 13, also heard an accusation made against deputy leader Mrs Cottingham which she said she wanted to get rid of a member of staff before the plan for disbanding the department emerged.

Liberal Democrat councillor Barbara Rix told members Mrs Cottingham made a comment to her about a specific member of staff whom she wanted to see leave the council. This was said to have been made at a book sale.

Mrs Rix raised the alleged comment in a conversation with Broadland's monitoring officer, Martin Thrower, at least three months ago, councillors heard.

No formal complaint has been made to Mr Thrower about Mrs Cottingham.

James Joyce, Lib Dem member for Eynesford, asked Mr Thrower at full council: 'Is it the case at least three months ago, at least one member of the council reported to you that a portfolio holder had stated to them, they wanted to get rid of a member of staff?

'Furthermore, is that member of staff identified for possible redundancy in this report?'

Mr Thrower confirmed to the meeting that the answer was 'yes' to both questions.

Mrs Rix later told councillors: 'I'd like to return to Mr Thrower's comments, if I may, and say how distressed and horrified I am with the comments made to me at a book sale.'

Full council heard council leader Andrew Proctor instigated the idea to investigate changing the strategy, community and housing department and initially met with head of corporate resources Stephen Fennell, and Kim Davis-Claydon, who was the operations and resources portfolio holder. Mrs Cottingham was not at this meeting.

Mrs Davis-Claydon, who resigned this week, has said she warned this was the wrong way to do the restructure and made this point on more than one occasion.

Mrs Cottingham also told full council: 'I am disappointed Councillor Rix has not taken the opportunity to approach me personally but chose to mention it this evening.'

Mrs Cottingham called this an 'attempt at political point-scoring'.

She said: 'If any member believes I've made a comment that's inappropriate, I suggest they refer that to the monitoring officer.'

Mrs Cottingham declined to comment further when contacted by the EDP.

Mr Thrower, speaking after full council, said Mrs Rix spoke to him about Mrs Cottingham's alleged comments at Broadland's Thorpe Lodge office.

He said it was fair to say this was months, not weeks ago.

Mr Thrower said: 'I've not received a formal complaint from Mrs Rix. If I had, it would have been properly investigated. I've only had that drawn to my attention by Mrs Rix.'

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