Councillors have claimed that office staff at Northamptonshire County Council have been told not to speak to them unless it has been approved by a senior manager.
Elected members of all parties condemned the move this morning, with Labour councillor and chair of the scrutiny committee, Mick Scrimshaw, saying he had evidence to back up that such instructions had been made, but would not be sharing the source due to ‘confidentiality’.
Councillor Scrimshaw said in a post on his Facebook page: “This is outrageous. As councillors we rely on members of staff to be able to speak to us freely as they often give a slightly different view about things than management would, which can be very helpful to councillors to understand what is happening within the organisation.
“Despite this, I will continue to be available to any member of staff who wishes to pass on any concerns or feelings they have, and will continue to offer them complete confidentiality but am extremely annoyed pressure is being put on them not to do so.”
Conservative councillor Victoria Perry raised the issue with the Northants branch of Unison on Twitter, writing: “I’m concerned that some staff have been told that they can’t speak to elected members directly and they must go via their manager. We are there for staff and it is important that if they want to talk to us they know they are permitted to do so.
“If staff are residents in Northamptonshire they are free to contact us as we represent them, in fact they are the only people we are accountable to.”
And Labour councillor Anjona Roy added: “It’s absolutely shocking that any management should behave in this way, but particularly in a public service. It smacks of an organisation fearful of transparency.”
Responding to Councillors Perry and Roy on Twitter, Northants Unison said it was ‘aware of the issue’. It added: “This seems to have become a problem after 2013 when our contracts were changed. Before that, communication with elected members was far easier and encouraged as good communication.”
A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Nothing has been issued to staff corporately about communications between staff and councillors.Guidance on interactions between councillors and staff is outlined in the Members’ Code of Conduct, which is part of the authority’s constitution and available on the council’s website.”