The leader of a council with one of the country’s largest majorities has dismissed claims he sacked a cabinet member who helped lead opposition to the Linton on Ouse asylum seeker centre for openly opposing a move to hand £770,000 of severance payments to four senior officers.
Councillor Mark Robson said, while the full meeting of Hambleton District Council had been the most difficult meeting he had faced in almost a decade as leader of the authority, it had not triggered his decision to sack Councillor Malcolm Taylor as portfolio holder for cabinet member for projects and transformation just minutes later.
The decision comes just months after Easingwold councillor Taylor, whose career has seen him defend the rights of rank and file police officers as a Police Federation regional representative, was heralded for his unstinting work to protect his community against the Home Office’s controversial plan to house asylum seekers in Linton-on-Ouse.
The meeting had heard Coun Robson take responsibility for a report recommending making the payments to the four men before Coun Taylor expressed concerns over whether an equality impact assessment had been undertaken to ensure fairness to all of the council’s staff.
Coun Robson, who saw several members of his normally united 23-member Conservative group speak against the payments in a vote that divided the Northallerton chamber 15 to 10, replied the council had been advised an in-depth study was unnecessary.
The vote, which saw two Independent members among the 15 who voted for the proposals, was the first significant rebellion at the 28-member authority, which is due to be dissolved in May as a unitary authority for North Yorkshire is formed, since the previous leader, Neville Huxtable, resigned over proposed car parking charges in February 2013.
After the meeting, Coun Taylor said: “I couldn’t support the proposal because it’s not right for the taxpayers of Hambleton, it’s not right for the lower paid members of staff at Hambleton, who are horrified about it, and it’s a sad day for democracy when you lose your job for doing what you think is the right thing.
“It is just shutting down democracy and this is a subject of massive public interest about a use of public money. How is that allowed to happen?”
Coun Robson said he had made the decision to remove Coun Taylor from the cabinet ahead of the meeting because his cabinet role had come to an end.
He said all the council’s projects except the cinema at the former Northallerton prison site had been delivered.
Coun Robson: “We are looking at saving money and you only have to look at some of his [Coun Taylor] statements over the last three months – there is nothing there for him to do.
“I toyed with the idea two months ago because the last project we needed to deliver was the final sign off with the crematorium. The position of cabinet members is my gift.”
He added: “I was only presenting a report, the members took the vote and mad the decision. There was no whip from the Conservative group. It was a difficult decision because it is difficult times where we are going as an authority.
“I feel for every one of our staff, however we can only look at staff in tiers two and three at the moment because those senior officers are ring-fenced into certain posts within the new authority.”