Wiltshire’s Liberal Democrats have demanded explanations from the council leader after a tribunal ruled that Wiltshire Council's CEO acted unlawfully through an email sent to staff.

GMB, the union for Wiltshire Council staff, claims the email was seeking to deter its traffic wardens from voting for industrial action.

The vote was part of a long-running dispute in which Wiltshire Council is seeking to remove contractual out-of-hours pay enhancement, which would result in pay reductions for staff.

Bristol Employment Tribunal ruled that the email sent by council Chief Executive Terence Herbert in November 2022 broke industrial relations law.

On Thursday, April 4, one week after the judgement, Councillor Richard Clewer, the leader of Wiltshire Council, announced that Terence Herbert was leaving Wiltshire to become chief executive at Surrey County Council.

Councillor Ian Thorn, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, has now asked Councillor Richard Clewer directly about the cost of the case.

He said: “Please can you answer the following questions as I believe taxpayers whose money was spent on this case have a right to understand exactly what happened:

“How much money was spent on defending this case?

“Why was the case taken to court when the union sought to settle out of court which would have cost Wiltshire taxpayers less?

“Did you personally know of the email sent by Terence Herbert to GMB members on 9 November 2022 that was the focus of the tribunal? 

“Did you indicate approval of that email before it was sent?

“Did the legal team review the email before it was sent?

“Did you provide a reference or have other contact with Surrey County Council relating to Terence Herbert’s application for the post of chief executive there?

“If so, did you disclose knowledge of the case before the tribunal? 

“When did you become aware of the case being brought by the wardens and when did you become aware of the outcome of the tribunal? 

“What actions are being taken to ensure that no senior council officer breaks employment law again?”

Councillor Ian Thorn added: “The Liberal Democrat group has been even-handed throughout this dispute.

“We held meetings with both management and unions so we understood both sides of the story.

“However, this judgement shows that the council’s chief executive breached employment law.

“Council taxpayers have a right to know why the chief executive was able to send an email that broke the law, why the council pursued this to court, and at what cost, and why the council leader has simply announced the chief executive’s departure rather than acknowledging the facts of this case.”

Councillor Richard Clewer said: “The council believed we had a strong position which is why we did not settle this case out of court.

“The email sent by the Chief Executive was intended to correct misinformation that had been shared with staff by the GMB union.

“Following the judgement, we are currently seeking legal advice as to whether there are grounds for the council to appeal.

“Whether we decide to appeal or not we will reflect on the points raised within the judgement to determine if any changes are required to our current processes.

“The announcement of Terence’s appointment as Chief Executive at Surrey County Council is entirely separate from the judgement and there was no reason for me to conflate the two issues.

“Terence has been, and remains, an excellent leader and he will be an asset to Surrey.”