Parish council in clerk pay out

Richard Higgs. EMN-160507-104559001
Richard Higgs. EMN-160507-104559001

A parish councillor has denied being responsible for her council having to pay £4,000-plus to settle an employment tribunal out of court.

Former Heckington Parish Council chairman Richard Higgs, who resigned from the authority last year, was due to give evidence in a case of constructive dismissal brought by the former clerk Angela Edwards against the council.

Coun Liz Peto. EMN-160507-110843001

Coun Liz Peto. EMN-160507-110843001

At last Monday’s parish council meeting he revealed during the public questions session the settlement figure agreed, including solicitors fees, by the council with the former clerk as £4,660.95, knowing the council and Mrs Edwards had agreed not to disclose the details. The settlement was made prior to the case going to a tribunal.

He said he wished to make the matter public, adding: “She was the best parish council clerk we have had. She was very knowledgeable and had the Baker’s handbook almost memorised and was an extremely good local access officer, but her one fault was she could not stomach the vitriol and harassment by Coun Liz Peto.”

As a personnel matter, he said it had to be dealt with as a parish council as a grievance, which was upheld by an independent panel but problems arose again in the November council meeting leading to Mrs Edwards stepping down. He said there were emails and recordings to prove the case. “It was not contested because it could not be,” he said.

He said the money the council has had to pay out is public money, ‘due to one councillor’s inability to carry out her duties correctly’.

Mr Higgs said after the meeting he was glad Mrs Edwards had been compensated.

Coun Peto was allowed to respond but was cut short by chairman Jan Palmer who said Coun Peto was coming out with ‘a lot of untruths’.

Coun Peto said she had been a parish clerk for nine years and offered help to the parish clerks that have served on the council.

She said: “Every time I asked for a report to be done properly I was jumped on by the chairman and vitriolic letters came through my letter box ceaselessly. I did not resign because I love my village. I liked Mrs Edwards and offered her help which she did not need. In June 2014 at the parish council meeting I asked what training the clerk had, knowing she didn’t have any. I knew there was training available. At the time there was no sign that this had disturbed Mrs Edwards, but I had a letter asking me to resign. We should train our staff and I believe in that.”

Throughout the ensuing months Coun Peto said a working relationship between her and the clerk continued.

After the meeting Coun Palmer confirmed the settlement figure and that the parish council had to make a pay out from funds that had been set aside in readiness, saying that if it had gone to tribunal it could have cost three times that figure. “We had to settle it for the sake of the parish,” she said.

Coun Peto told The Standard she has been unable to get comments about the pay out removed - as she had requested - from Facebook.

She added: “I proposed in April that this should go to ACAS because I think she (Mrs Edwards) didn’t have a case, but it didn’t. Mrs Palmer handled everything.

“It was a big insult to me to suggest I harassed the clerk. I did not do it and there is no evidence to prove I bullied Mrs Edwards in any way.”

She insists she was always on the clerk’s side, wanting her to get training, although Coun Palmer insists the clerk did receive training, but from a different source.

Coun Peto said the monitoring officer at North Kesteven District Council tried to arrange a negotiation between the council and Mrs Peto, but Mr Higgs, at the time still the council chairman, refused.

Coun Peto said: “I represent people in the village and do my best and will continue to do so. I am sorry that the village has had to witness this.”

She said she would not be resigning.