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Harrow councillor defends awards ceremony trip
A councillor has defended his decision to sip champagne at an awards ceremony instead of facing questions from staff losing their jobs in his department.
Councillor Phillip O’Dell, portfolio holder for environment, said it was “important” that he went to the National Transport Awards at a central London hotel rather than attend Thursday’s cabinet meeting, where approximately 50 front-line Harrow Council staff came hoping to quiz him on job losses.
Plans to cut 53 jobs and four refuse vehicles in a part-merger of the highways, community safety and public realm departments were pushed through at the meeting, but a union leader and opposition councillors heavily criticised Cllr O’Dell for not turning up.
The Public Realm Integrated Services Model (PRISM) is predicted to save £1.85million in the next two years, although it could cost the council £1.15m in redundancy settlements as jobs are cut.
Cllr O'Dell has missed three of the last five council cabinet meetings.
The borough was shortlisted for an award for 'excellence in walking' for its Mollison Way improvement project at the ceremony hosted by radio presenter Jeremy Vine at the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel, but did not win.
Cllr O’Dell said: “The award ceremony was about recognising all the good work Harrow Council’s traffic department has done within the local community.
“It was important for me as portfolio holder for environment to attend in order to recognise the stature of this national award and therefore support the staff and community.
“I have been closely involved in developing PRISM right from the start. The numerous structured meetings of discussions with staff and the trade unions have been conducted by the managers in environment, and I have provided a steer on the direction of the project.
“I have had informal discussions with staff on a number of service visits that I have taken part in, and I have been available to respond to questions at events such as the environment staff forum held in July.”
The proposals were sent back to the council’s cabinet after the UNISON union and members of a scrutiny committee decided there had been “insufficient consideration of legal advice”, but councillors decided to press ahead in Cllr O’Dell’s absence.
Harrow UNISON warned last week that the job cuts, part of the council’s battle to fill a £19 million hole in this year’s budget following massive reductions in central government funding, were “short-sighted” and would hit front-line services.