A POLITICAL plot meant to embarrass a councillor’s political opponents went awry when he inadvertently left his plans on one of their answer phones.
Hapless Hexham councillor Derek Kennedy made the gaffe when he muddled up the surnames of Dougie Watkin, a fellow Liberal Democrat councillor, with Tory Michael Walton, the Conservative leader of Tynedale Council, in his mobile phone address book.
Coun Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Tynedale, left the message on Coun Walton’s phone, discussing the controversial issue of retention payments to officers at Tynedale Council.
The Journal has exclusively obtained a copy of a transcript of the message left by Coun Kennedy, in which he says the subject of retention payments to staff could be used to his party’s advantage if they “dress it properly”. Believing he was speaking to his Lib Dem colleague, Coun Kennedy said: “We shouldn’t pay any such allowances. I think if we dress it properly it will make as though we’re protecting the staff as opposed to giving the officers a bloody big pay-out.”
Opponents of Coun Kennedy have accused him of breaking a confidentiality agreement by discussing items on council “pink papers” – the documents that are considered behind closed doors – with someone outside the authority.
But while Coun Kennedy admitted that Coun Walton was the last person he wanted to accidentally leave the message with, he denied doing anything wrong.
He said: “It is disappointing to learn of this through the press. I have had no official approach from Tynedale Council and have not heard the tape or received the transcript from them.
“Retention payments were first discussed at a public board meeting in June. These minutes are on the council website and are free to anyone to read – they are not marked confidential.
“I can only imagine that this is being done to try to tarnish my reputation and to silence me once and for all. This is just political venom and is hardly constructive.”
The message was left two days before the committee was due to make a decision in a meeting behind closed doors.
But some councillors maintain that the message did suggest that Coun Kennedy had broken council rules by discussing confidential material with a third party.
Conservative councillor Colin Horncastle said: “He should resign. As far as I am concerned this is proof that he has been undermining the decision-making of Tynedale Council. These items are put on confidential papers because they contain sensitive information.”
Coun Walton declined to comment on the transcript, saying simply that it was a “matter for the Liberals”.
He said a copy of the transcript had been given to the Liberal Democrat party and that it was their decision on what to do with it.
A spokesman for Tynedale Council said the council was not planning any formal action.
What Coun Kennedy said...
HERE is a transcript of what Coun Kennedy said:
"Dougie it’s Derek. I’ve been having a think about this, you know, this retention of payments allowance thing at Tynedale.
"I was thinking because if this gets out it’s obvious all the officers and other districts are going to do the same.
"Should we put a motion in at county hall saying we don’t want any recruitment allowances in Northumberland County Council because we recognise that it would be divisive for other staff?
"And obviously the current status, Tynedale, at Northumberland County Council’s £230m of debt that we shouldn’t pay any such allowances.
"I think if we dress it properly it, you know it’ll make it as though we’re protecting the staff as opposed to giving the officers a big, bloody big pay out.
"Give us a ring, tell us what you think. Cheers now, tada."
Political hot potato
THE issue of whether Tynedale Council should pay supplements to its staff appeared on an agenda in June and the decision was taken to implement them in August.
The supplements are designed to keep key staff in their posts at a time of uncertainty in local government with councils in Northumberland set to be abolished and replaced with a single unitary authority.
Coun Kennedy has opposed the supplements, saying that the extra cost was not in the public interest.
But the move was defended by Conservative councillors and chief executive Richard Robson, who say the payments are an important part of maintaining a high standard of service for the public.