Controversy over hiring of ex-councillor to £40,000 officer role leads to changes in recruitment rules at Nottinghamshire County Council
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The council has added a new line to its recruitment procedures to prevent former councillors being hired into paid roles until 12 months have passed since they left office.
It follows the hiring of former Hucknall West councillor Phil Rostance into the position of executive officer to the senior leadership team (ruling group) at the start of November last year.
This was roughly six months after he stopped being a county councillor following his defeat to Coun Dave Shaw in May 2021’s local elections, although he continues to represent Hucknall West on Ashfield District Council.
His employment came despite Schedule 116 of the Local Government Act 1972 stating 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 was no suggestion Coun Rostance’s appointment led to either.
The law adds: “A person shall, so long as he is, and for 12 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 authority’s chief executive apologised when the rule breach became apparent and said it was a ‘genuine mistake’.
Councillors debated behind closed doors at the November full council meeting to discuss an outcome to Coun Rostance’s position and he remains in the role.
But the authority also pledged to alter its recruitment practices to prevent a similar breach from occurring in the future.
Now the council has outlined this step in documents due before its personnel committee on March 9.
The documents confirm a new line will be added to the authority’s ‘range of checks’ when assessing an applicant, including ‘any statutory bars relating to elected members who cannot hold paid employment with the council for the first 12 months of leaving office’.
Other checks on this list include proof of qualifications, validated references, a relevant DBS check and proof of eligibility to work in the UK.
The documents add recruits will not be set up on the authority’s payroll if ‘any one of these requirements has not been met to a satisfactory standard’.
The November meeting saw councillors torn on whether to debate Coun Rostance’s position in public or in private.
Several opposition councillors called for the matter to be held in public while the authority’s monitoring officer argued the matter was not in the public interest.
It was ultimately debated in private.
Anthony May, the council’s chief executive, issued a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service prior to the meeting admitting to the breach and describing it as a ‘serious matter’.
He said he was making an ‘unreserved apology’ to the council and Coun Rostance for the breach, but said the matter was not discussed publicly due to ‘personal and financial information about the member of staff’.
Coun Rostance did not wish to comment when approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service last November.