Nottinghamshire County Council has admitted to breaching the Local Government Act when hiring a former councillor into a prominent officer role before it was legally allowed to do so.
The council appointed former county councillor Phil Rostance (Con) into the position of Executive Officer to the Senior Leadership Team (Ruling Group) at the start of November 2021.
Councillor Rostance had represented Hucknall West on the authority until May 2021, before losing in this year’s election to Cllr Dave Shaw (Ash Ind) when running for the nearby Hucknall South seat.
However, Schedule 116 of the Local Government Act 1972 says former councillors are “not to be appointed as officers” until at least 12 months after they ceased to be a member of that authority.
This rule is in place to prevent any conflicts of interest and to reduce political influence in senior officer positions – although there is no suggestion that Cllr Rostance’s appointment has led to either.
The law adds: “A person shall, so long as he is, and for twelve months after he ceases to be, a member of a local authority, be disqualified for being appointed or elected by that authority to any paid office, other than to the office of chairman or vice-chairman.”
The breach will be discussed at a full council meeting on Thursday, November 25, and councillors will be asked to decide the future of Cllr Rostance’s appointment.
All 66 current councillors will also be asked to vote on whether to hold the discussion in public or remove members of the public and press from the chamber during the debate.
The council’s plan to hold the item in private has been challenged. But the council reaffirmed its stance that “the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information”.
However, Anthony May, the council’s chief executive, has now issued a statement saying the council did break the law but insists it was a “genuine mistake”.
He says Thursday’s report will include personal and financial information about Cllr Rostance, with the authority’s legal advisors recommending a report into the issue and discussion of it be held behind closed doors.
Mr May confirmed, however, that he will be making an apology to the council and to Cllr Rostance during the discussion.
He said: “I can confirm Nottinghamshire County Council has breached a section of the Local Government Act, which we didn’t know about at the time it happened.
“I am satisfied we made a genuine mistake. Now we are aware of this breach, having taken advice, we are required to deal with it by taking a report to full Council following processes which are also set out in law.
“The breach relates to the employment of a new member of our staff and officers who made the appointment used our normal procedures but were not aware of this particular element of the Act.
“Having considered the public interest, the report has not been made public because it contains personal and financial information about the member of staff and legal advice which the Council has received.
“It goes without saying this is a serious matter, so our report to councillors sets out the various factors for consideration in determining the way forward.
“Finally, in reporting this matter to the Council, I shall be making an unreserved apology to the Council and to the member of staff affected by this breach.”
Cllr Rostance remains an elected member of Ashfield District Council, representing Hucknall West for the Conservatives, and therefore continues to be subject to public scrutiny for his roles both inside and outside his elected position.
A previous, online job posting for the role when it was first introduced in 2018 shows it has a salary of between £38,052 and £42,806 for 37 hours of work each week.
Cllr Rostance’s post acts as an assistant to the ruling Conservative administration at County Hall.
A posting from when the job was first created in 2018 describes it as an “exciting role”, with the former county councillor required to act “as a key link between the council’s political administration and senior officers”.