THE leader of the Conservative group at Cornwall Council has sensationally quit her role on the Cabinet in a row over the use of lie detector tests on people claiming single person's council tax discount.
Fiona Ferguson claimed in her resignation email – which was placed online by councillors – that leader of the council Jim Currie had threatened to sack her from her Cabinet post if she revealed the details of the lie detector test being used.
The Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) software – which is known as a lie detector test – is allegedly being used by company Capita which has been employed by the council to carry out a review of people claiming single person's council tax discount.
The relief allows anyone living on their own to claim 25% of their council tax bills. Letters were sent out to those claiming the benefit last year and these were being followed up with telephone interviews.
During these interviews, Mrs Ferguson claims, the company was going to use VRA.
On Capita's website it states that VRA is "capable of identifying stress and emotion in a caller's voice pattern".
In her resignation email to Mr Currie she states that VRA had previously been reviewed by the Department of Work and Pensions which found that it was not reliable.
She wrote: "I have discussed this matter with the monitoring officer. He has advised me that, as this is an operational matter in relation to a contract that the council has already entered into, he strongly advises me that I should not require that this software is not used. If, contrary to his advice, I maintain my stance that we must not use this software then officers will comply provided you also agree.
"You have made it clear to me that you will not agree. Indeed, you have said that I will be 'sacked' if I inform members that this software will be used.
"That will not be necessary. Please accept my resignation with immediate effect.
"May I say that I have no reason whatsoever to believe that you were aware of this aspect of the contract before I drew it to your attention. I also appreciate that you are in a difficult position in view of the monitoring officer's advice.
"But, I do not believe that his advice is correct and I cannot accept it on ethical grounds. I also do not believe that it will help the council to pursue fraud (which we must surely do) if the public think we are using this software.
"Finally, I fear that it will be extremely damaging to our reputation.
"Therefore, I am launching a petition to require any use of this type of technology to be approved by full council."
In a statement Cornwall Council said that the interviews were being carried out to verify details provided by claimants.
It said: "These interviews will be carried out by trained assessors who will use specialist technology to assist this process. This technology has been successfully used by a number of local authorities carrying out similar reviews. All claimants will be advised that the calls will be recorded, monitored and used for fraud prevention purposes."