Northamptonshire Council leader sacks committee chair after he refused to back plan to withhold £2m from pension fund

Experienced pensions chairman Cllr Lawman has been sacked from his post for refusing to back the council's plan.
Experienced pensions chairman Cllr Lawman has been sacked from his post for refusing to back the council's plan.

Northamptonshire County Council Council leader Matt Golby has sacked the long standing chair of the authority’s pension committee after it voted against a plan to hold back a £2m contribution.

Last week members of the committee voted against the proposal to hold back £2m of the £6.73m employer pension contribution as a one off reduction and instead give it in the next financial year. Five of the 11 committee members abstained from the vote and six members voted against the move.

Leader Matt Golby has sacked three prominent councillors in recent months.

Leader Matt Golby has sacked three prominent councillors in recent months.

Yesterday council leader Matt Golby called Cllr Graham Lawman, who has chaired the committee for the past eight years and told him he would have to go because the vote had not passed as the authority had hoped.

Cllr Lawman is the third senior conservative in the county council to leave their position following the sackings of Cllr Victoria Perry, who had been cabinet member for children’s services and Cllr Andy Mercer who was the cabinet member for local government reform.

Cllr Lawman, who represents Wellingborough’s Croyland and Swanspool Ward, and has been a county councillor for ten years, said: “I’m extremely disappointed as I feel I had done an excellent job. The pension fund is performing extremely well. The actuary did not advise to hold back the £2m, instead he said it was ‘acceptable’. Because it didn’t go that way the leader decided to stand me down.

“I don’t know who he will find to take on the chair as it is always hard to find people to sit on the committee because of the subject matter.

“It is very involved, I have had 30 days of training, have spoken at conferences and am respected in the industry.”

Since the decision Cllr Lawman, who has asked the leader to reconsider, said he has had several messages of support from councillors of all parties. He said he did not know whose idea it was to suggest not making the £2m contribution but that it came to the committee very late in the day.

Despite the council’s own financial problems its pension fund is in a healthy state.

Cllr Golby, who has been leader since last April, said the decision taken by the pension committee was a factor in why he removed Cllr Lawman.

He said: “It is down to me to make that decision and I don’t want to say much more about it. I want to look at refreshing things all the time to improve. I thank Graham for his service.”

Labour Cllr Mick Scrimshaw said: “I think Cllr Lawman has done an excellent job and he has developed a national reputation. This seems a petty decision to me and I think there is a general question now about who is running the council and who is calling the shots.”

Labour's Cllr Julie Brookfield who was a member of the committee until being removed last year said: "I am deeply concerned by my county council even considering raiding the pension fund. The pension committee took a decision not to accede to the NCC request for a £2m transfer because they have a fiduciary duty and need to have regard to the safety of the scheme. This decision to attache the committee and remove the chair is high handed and politically motivated by Councillor Golby, a leader who sacks anyone who disagrees with him."

The appointment of a new committee chair will have to go before the next full council meeting.

This week the council announced that, against the odds it will balance its books this year. The authority is being run by two commissioners and a new chief executive Theresa Grant has steadied the finances of the authority.