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Monitoring officer quits after committee blunder

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A senior Barnet LBC officer has left after a blunder gave the council the wrong political balance on its committees.

Maryellen Salter, who was director of assurance and monitoring officer, left by mutual agreement following a meeting on Tuesday of the policy and resources committee, a council statement said.

Barnet is now set to review whether its next monitoring officer must be legally qualified, and remove high level corporate legal support from an agreement under which neighbouring Harrow LBC provides its legal services. It will instead undertake this work itself or through a different outsourcing arrangement.

Reports by independent investigator Claer Lloyd-Jones on the error and potential solutions found the deal with Harrow had meant “there is no one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet”.

Staff in key governance roles were inexperienced in the subject and there was no clear system for securing legal advice on reports prepared for the council, the report found.

It said these problems were compounded by the complexities caused by Barnet’s move from a cabinet to committee system in June.

Erroneous reports led to the wrong political proportionality being agreed for committees, which had to be corrected at a later meeting.

The balance is Conservative 32, Labour 30, Liberal Democrat one, and the arrangement initially adopted would not have given a Tory majority on committees.

Ms Lloyd-Jones’ report said that Ms Salter was by background an accountant, and that the deal with Harrow meant that no lawyers were either employed by Barnet or regularly located in its buildings.

She found Barnet was “probably” at long-term risk in its legal and governance arrangements and “must make some changes…to ensure that it has access to proactive professional and expert advice at all relevant times in future”.

Options she put before Barnet included employing its own legally qualified monitoring officer or sharing one with another borough.

The opposition Labour group has said it will propose at next month’s full council meeting that all legal services are brought back in-house.

 

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