Harrogate's new scrutiny leader backs new committee amid "conflict of interest" claim

Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Aldred, who has taken over as chair of the overview and scrutiny committee.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Aldred, who has taken over as chair of the overview and scrutiny committee.

The new chair of Harrogate Borough Council's rejigged overview and scrutiny commission has backed the body to effectively hold the authority to account, while addressing concerns over a potential "conflict of interest" regarding the committee's make-up.

Coun Chris Aldred (Liberal Democrats, Harrogate Fairfax) said ahead of his first meeting as chair that he was "humbled" to hold the position after being elected as a councillor for the first time last year.

"Pat (Marsh, Harrogate's Liberal Democrat leader) asked me if I fancied doing it and I felt quite humbled, given that I've only been a councillor for a year and (the importance of) the role of holding the executive to account," he said.

He takes over from fellow Liberal Democrat Coun Phil Broadbank, who has stepped back from the role to focus on his ward of Starbeck.

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The committee is always chaired by a member of the opposition party, with the body's broad responsibilities including analysing work undertaken by the council's cabinet and dealings with external bodies.

"Looking forward, I'm sure there'll be some rough and tumble," Coun Aldred said.

He also addressed the appointment of Coun Sam Gibbs (Cons, Harrogate Valley Gardens) as vice-chair of the committee.

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Coun Gibbs is employed by the Conservative Party and works next door to the office of MP Andrew Jones where council leader Richard Cooper and Coun Ed Darling are employed.

It led to Liberal Democrat leader Pat Marsh stating her party had "serious concerns" over the appointment at the council's annual general meeting last month.

Coun Cooper responded at the time, stating that multiple Liberal Democrat councillors worked under former Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Phil Willis during his time in office.

Speaking on the matter, Coun Aldred said while the Liberal Democrats were concerned over it, he backed the committee to work effectively together.

"As a group we are concerned about that," he said.

"The reason we brought it up at the AGM was that it was our one and only opportunity to do so.

"Obviously just as we (the Liberal Democrats) decide who is going to chair, it is up to the Conservatives who they pick for vice-chair.

"Personally I get on very well with Sam and we'll do our best to make the committee work."

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter