NORTHUMBERLAND County Council’s top lawyer has refused to answer questions on a Northumbria Police investigation into unlawful exit payments at the council.

At Wednesday’s meeting (March 19) of full council, monitoring officer Stephen Gerrard explained that an error in the council’s pay policies between 2019 and 2022 – which could have led to unlawful exit payments to council staff totalling more than £1 million – had now been rectified.

The lawyer expressed a hope that his report would “draw a line” under the issue. However, when pressed for answers over a referral to the police in relation to the issue, Mr Gerrard refused to provide further details.

Speaking at the meeting, he said: “My report is intended to draw a line under the shortfalls in process in relation to exit payments to some staff. Having discovered the shortcomings, steps were taken immediately to be sure there could be no similar occurrence.

“The important message I would like to get across is democratic oversight of the process has been restored. I appreciate that some councillors will feel it should go further, and would like to identify those responsible for the procedural revisions which led to the situation arising.

“Even if I could, and I can’t, it would not be appropriate to do so in this setting. Individuals can’t respond or defend themselves.

“This is purely to say that the issues have been identified and remediated. I would ask all members to respect that today please – otherwise you will put me and the council in a very difficult position.”

READ MORE: Error in council's pay policy may have led to 'unlawful' exit payments

Councillor Anne Dale raised the police referral, which was completed by Mr Gerrard in January following an internal investigation led by the council’s finance chief Jan Willis.

She said: “The report had been referred to the police. Does that mean this closes down, or are we waiting for a response?

“I would like to draw a line under it and if we can I think it would be helpful, otherwise people will see it as ongoing.”

Mr Gerrard said he had nothing to add to his report or his previous statement.

Independent Group councillor Mary Murphy spoke to put her own concerns on record. The former Labour councillor said: “I have seen many, many workers dismissed from this authority and they never had a line drawn under anything.

“They have never had anyone protect them in a way that senior officers have. I’m not saying it is the wrong thing to do, but I would like to put on record that senior officers have made decisions that we can’t scrutinise and we’re all ready to draw a line under it.

“I feel for all the workers, some base grade, who nobody has done that for, and have been dismissed from this authority sometimes for being overwhelmed or being poorly.”

Members were asked to adopt the report. All councillors voted to do so apart from the Independent Group, who chose to abstain.