The legal costs spent on an unlawful email sent by Wiltshire Council’s CEO amounted to over £20,000.

The leader of the council, Councillor Richard Clewer, has reported that £21,395 was spent on defending the case.

He was questioned on the incident by Wiltshire’s Liberal Democrat leader, Councillor Ian Thorn, at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, April 26.

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.

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

Councillor Thorn asked Councillor Clewer why the case was pursued if GMB had offered to settle out of court.

Councillor Clewer explained: “We sought to defend a claim that we felt was unfounded.

“We had advice to suggest that there was a good, reasonable prospect of us winning that tribunal.”

Councillor Clewer also told Councillor Thorn that he did not know about, nor did he approve, the email sent by Mr Herbert.

When asked if he would have liked to have known, he responded that such a degree of “micromanagement” would not be helpful, and that the council had taken internal and external legal advice “throughout the entire process.”

Councillor Thorn asked if he was aware of the amount of time that Wiltshire Council officers had spent giving that advice.

Councillor Clewer said: “There are so many issues that we are dealing with in this council, I really don’t think getting officers to allocate every minute of each day to whatever they are dealing with is particularly useful, no.

“With hindsight, perhaps, given the result, that is a reasonable question for you to ask, but is it a reasonable thing for us to be doing, on a day-to-day basis, no, I don’t think so.”

Councillor Thorn argued that given the “reputational concern” of the case and the damage it had caused, there would be an interest in the total cost of the process.

He added that he believed the amount of information shared with councillors regarding the judgement to be “wholly inappropriate” and described it as a “shocking example” of information not being shared and “brushed under the carpet.”

Councillor Clewer suggested he was playing “petty political games” at the approach of an election, and responded: “Once we’ve determined whether we are going to appeal or not, we will then be in a position to communicate properly with members to explain what has happened and what the implications of that are.”

He also noted that the judgement was available on a public website and was reported by the press.

Wiltshire Council is currently seeking legal advice as to whether there are grounds to appeal the decision made by the Bristol Employment Tribunal.

The email in question stated: "I am concerned that the GMB continue to present the proposals both to staff and in the media as a “10% pay cut for staff" — this is really misleading."

"I hope that, through the ACAS conciliation process, we are able to resolve this matter, remove the ongoing uncertainty for staff and move forward.

"I would ask you to please consider carefully whether further strike action will support this approach."

During the case, Mr Herbert argued that the email intended to “set the record straight” and provide staff with accurate information.

He denied that it sought to deter staff from voting in favour of industrial action, saying that it “wasn’t particularly relevant” whether they went on strike or not.