Rochelle Tapping, recognised as one of the country’s top lawyers employed in local government, has lost her £110,000 year role as chief legal officer of Peterborough City after “failing’ her six-month probation.
Ms Tapping, who once worked for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA). had been director of legal and governance at Peterborough City Council for 10 months.
However, a special meeting of the council on August 31 called to discuss possible disciplinary action decided to “terminate the employment of the council’s director of legal and governance (monitoring officer)”
Chief executive Matt Gladstone told the council that she had “not successfully passed her probation period”.
An independent panel reviewed his recommendation and a statement from the city council says that this was “found to be reasonable and valid”.
It is unlikely to be the last we hear of Ms Tapping’s departure.
Aside from the day job, she is a leading figure and membership director of Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), a professional body representing and supporting the interests of local government legal or governance officers within local authorities. It has 4,300 members.
One of her specialised roles, described on the LLG website, is oversight of “governance with a working interest in local authority companies”.
Until August 31 Ms Tapping had neither been suspended nor placed on gardening leave but councillors were originally asked to meet to convene a ‘politically balanced’ investigation and disciplinary committee of at least five members.
Terms of reference of an investigation and disciplinary committee were set out in a paper put before councillors on August 31, although all detail of the allegations made against Ms Tapping were not made public.
However, it is clear that the chief executive’s recommendation to dismiss her won the support of independent investigators and city councillors.
As monitoring officer Ms Tapping was one of the five principal officers of the city council and her role described as the “guardian of the council’s constitution and the decision-making process.
“She is responsible for advising the council on the legality of its decisions and providing guidance to councillors and officers on the council’s constitutions and its powers”.
Ironically much of the procedural leg work involved once a council sets in motion disciplinary action against a senior officer was written by Ms Tapping herself since she was the only qualified officer able to do so.
In a four-page report to the extraordinary council meeting, Ms Tapping described in one part – under the heading ‘unlawful decision’ – a minutiae of detail but says it is her duty, to report any contravention of the law.
“Although this matter indirectly relates to the current monitoring officer, a position that the report author occupies, the s5 duty (section 5 of the local government act of 1989) may only be delegated to a deputy where the monitoring officer is unable to, owing to absence or illness.
“Further the duty requires the monitoring officer to report to full council personally (s5-7) of the Act.
“The current monitoring officer is neither absent or ill and therefore has produced this report.”
It is a far cry from last October when the city council announced her appointment following “a nationwide search and extensive recruitment process, with the council’s employment committee interviewing shortlisted candidates”.
Ms Tapping joined the council on November 14 after a five-month stint as assistant director legal services and deputy monitoring officer at Birmingham City Council.
Prior to that she had been at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority for two and a half years, the last year as head of legal, deputy monitoring officer and data protection officer.
On her appointment to Peterborough City Council, she said that “financial sustainability and good governance go hand in hand and are paramount to the council.
“Peterborough is rising to its challenges and championing change, with an improvement journey that will positively benefit residents.
“Officers and members are committed to the success of the council, and this is great to see. I really look forward to joining and the great achievements ahead.”
Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, leader of Peterborough City Council, said of her appointment: “It is great news that we have attracted someone of the calibre of Rochelle to Peterborough and I look forward to working with her.
“With the opportunities and challenges ahead of us in Peterborough we need someone who can hit the ground running and with Rochelle’s extensive local government experience I believe she can do just that.”
Previously the role of director of legal and governance was shared with Cambridgeshire County Council.
One of initiatives introduced by Ms Tapping during her time at Peterborough has been a move to ensure councillors and officers who serve on council owned companies require better training.
She also called for a new officer led unit to over council owned companies and to ensure companies had a lead officer.
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