Another East Northants Council legal case looms over new authority

Councillors have been informed of ongoing legal action from one of the legacy councils

A second legal case handed on from East Northamptonshire Council is set to be heard later this year, it has emerged.

A former member of staff at ENC is taking the new North Northamptonshire Council, which took over control from all former boroughs last April, to an employment tribunal.

An email leaked to this newspaper and sent to all councillors earlier this week provides outline details of the case which is due before the tribunal court in September. The hearing is set to last 19 days - long by tribunal standards.

The former ENC HQ in Thrapston

It is not known whether leader Cllr Jason Smithers had been pre-warned about this second case when he took over as leader last May. But it is known that the previous case against Geoff Monks was kept under-wraps from the majority of the shadow authority set up to navigate the transition between the old councils and the new unitary authority.

The former leader of East Northamptonshire Council Steven North resigned from the North Northamptonshire Executive last year to 'take a break from top level politics' although he remains a councillor and is still working in his day job as an assistant to Wellingborough MP Peter Bone.

The case has been described as a financial 'high risk' for the authority, which is why Cllr Smithers took the decision to inform all members of the proceedings at this point.

His email states: "I believe that it is essential that I am not only aware of, but that I communicate on, those legal cases that are deemed to be 'high risk matters' such as Monks, and in line with that I have been made aware of an employment matter which will be determined at tribunal later this year.

"The case is in relation to an employee who was dismissed in 2018 by East Northamptonshire District Council and who commenced litigation in October 2019."

He added that employment tribunals are 'notoriously lengthy' but that he hoped the scope of the case could be narrowed by preliminary hearings ahead of September's final hearing.

It is not believed that the un-named litigant is willing to enter mediation but the council will take further legal advice 'on the prospects of success' following the preliminary hearing.

Cllr Smithers continued: "Whilst this is serious, it is not in the magnitude of the Monks case. The financial risk is difficult to compute in tribunal claims."

Meanwhile, financial irregularities uncovered by auditors at East Northamptonshire Council are set to be discussed behind closed doors next week by North Northamptonshire Councillors.

The potential fraud involves a direct debit of £100 per week for 130 weeks that had gone undetected at the authority during the 2019/20 financial year. Members were initially told that it 'wasn't worth investigating' such a 'low-level' fraud but after it was reported in this newspaper, Cllr Smithers called in the police who are investigating.

Now members of the Audit and Governance Committee who are meeting on Monday (March 14) at 2pm will be given an update on the prosecution. It will be heard behind closed doors because it involves information relating to the the ongoing investigation.