A Welwyn Garden City councillor who chaired a council tax debate while she was in arrears has apologised.

Politicians in local government must make a declaration and sit out council tax setting votes if they have fallen behind on their bill by at least two months.

Labour councillor Lucy Musk, who represents Haldens ward in the town, chaired the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee on January 16, 2024, when its members debated raising council tax by 2.96 per cent.

At a cross-party full council meeting on Monday, February 5, Conservative councillor Sunny Thusu warned “it’s gone from being a financial situation to a probity situation”.

He said: “The money, yes, we’ve all been there. That’s by the by. The question is, did they lie?"

Cllr Thusu added that Cllr Musk “could have excused themselves”.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Labour-run council Cllr Paul Zukowskyj told members of the Conservative Group: “You talk about ‘openness and transparency’ but I push back on that a little bit and say, this is involving an individual’s finances, and I don’t think you can get much more private than what’s happening in your personal finance situation.

“I think we have to strike a balance between personal privacy and openness and transparency of the administration.”

Cllr Zukowskyj added: “We needed to make sure we’re following the right procedures and I think you would agree getting that balance right is as important as being open and transparent.”

Cllr Lynn Chesterman, leader of the Labour Group, said: “How many of you can put your hands on your hearts and know the person you’re sitting next to isn’t in arrears?

 “It is not up to us and it is not down to the officers to let us know what’s happening in people’s private lives.

“It’s a very delicate system and they would only break that confidence when it gets to the edge, and unfortunately, it’s only recently it got to that point where it needed to be reported.”

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee looks at council policy before Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council members agree to – or throw out – new rules and spending arrangements.

Cllr Musk was told she had fallen behind on her bills by two months a day before the committee’s meeting and made a commitment to officers she would repay, but she was still in arrears when the committee unanimously agreed the 2024/25 budget is “financially sound”.

The cross-party full council approved the budget at their February 5 meeting, which Cllr Musk did not attend, including a 2.96 per cent council tax increase.

Cllr Musk told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “As a councillor for Haldens, I want to make an apology to local residents and my colleagues for the late payment of council tax.

“I was in arrears while attending a committee meeting relating to the Welwyn Hatfield budget setting process.

“None of my colleagues were aware of this situation and this was solely my mistake.

“It should not have happened.

“I have since cleared my arrears and am now fully up to date with my council tax payments.

“I would like to reassure residents this will not happen again and to thank colleagues and council officers for their understanding.

“My focus is entirely on doing the best job I can to represent residents in Haldens.”