Barnet Borough Council has been left in “limbo” after an error in the way committee memberships were allocated left it unable to make decisions for the next month.
A meeting of the assets, regeneration and growth committee last night was cut short after the authority’s chief executive Andrew Travers said all decisions taken since the May elections are invalid.
Mr Travers said the allocation of committee seats had been “flawed”, meaning no committee will be able to make decisions until they are reconstituted at the next full council meeting on July 15.
See below for blogger Barnet Bugle's video from last night's meeting
The ruling Tory party allocated its committee places amongst the newly-elected councillors last month, but an error meant they were incorrectly calculated.
This means the political balance calculations for all committees appear to be under question.
Each committee should have been allocated individually according to the ratio of Conservative and Labour members sitting on the council.
During last night’s meeting, Mr Travers said: “This committee today cannot make any formal or binding decisions.
“The position at the moment is that the proportion calculation at the council is flawed.
“Legally it follows that the committee cycle cannot take legally binding decisions and that can only be rectified by having a further meeting at council.”
“Whether or not there can be a speedier resolution than that is a matter that I have to consider.”
A meeting of the council's environment committee took place last week, but the committee should have ten seats and not the 11 appointed to the role.
It now means all decisions taken on the three committees already held - policy & resources, performance & contract management and environment are null and void.
Labour committee member Pauline Coakley-Webb questioned why it took Harrow and Barnet’s joint legal team so long to come up with the advice.
She said: “It’s a disgrace, it’s a really bad reflection on this council that this is the state we find ourself in, we’re basically in limbo, we might as well still be in purdah.
“It’s outrageous it’s been allowed to get to this stage.”
The committee problem follows a Times Series investigation last week that raised questions over the legality of the authority's payments to councillors.
Local authorities are required by law to make a members’ allowances scheme each year, however, the last scheme of members’ allowances — which were approved on September 14, 2010 — expired on March 31, 2014.
The Times Series therefore asked Barnet Council if councillor allowance payments made in April and May this year were legal and, if proved not, would members be forced to pay them back?
Barnet Council told the paper it had sought legal advice on this issue and was told its members’ allowance scheme could be amended at any time but can only be revoked at the end of the year.
The council added that as it had just moved to a committee system the scheme can be revoked when the new system comes into operation.