Tribunal told how Devizes MP sacked her best friend
Devizes MP Claire Perry was forced to defend her decision to sack her best friend at an employment tribunal yesterday and branded her pal "incapable" of carrying out the role.
Conservative Mrs Perry, who has regularly spoken up for the Coalition's austerity program, made a cut of her own when Penelope Nurick lost her job in a "staff reshuffle".
Mrs Nurick was one of Mrs Perry's seconders when she stood as the Conservative Party candidate for the Devizes constituency in 2010, and had worked in her office for two years.
But she was formally sacked from her administrative role on February 23 2012 when Mrs Perry, 48, replaced her with another employee in the constituency office.
Mrs Nurick launched legal proceedings against best friend Mrs Perry following the decision - claiming she had been "unfairly dismissed" by the MP.
Yesterday, Mrs Perry told a tribunal in Bristol that she was forced to fire her friend after senior advisor Christopher Jones, left his job in November 2011.
The MP said she was unable to replace Mr Jones and so decided to split his extensive job role between her London and Devizes offices.
She hired Tamara Reay, who was able to cover both policy and 'surgery only' roles, in her Devizes office at the expense of Mrs Nurick.
Mrs Perry told the hearing: "It was clear from our early experiences that she [Mrs Nurick] would struggle with more responsibility.
"The claimant required a lot of managing and support, particularly in the IT area and all of this lead me to believed that this would not be something she would not be able to do, she would be incapable.
"I could not afford to keep Mrs Nurick on doing a surgery only job and employ someone to do a local policy job. I found someone who could do both."
Mrs Perry said budgetary constraints from Westminster meant that she could only employ a limited number of staff members for her constituency.
She added: "What I had realised was that I needed to have more local policy placement.
"With Mr Jones leaving there was a vacuum at the top of my team and I had decided that there was a restructuring that needed to happen.
"As a result of all of those changes I realised I couldn't keep Mrs Nurick on in her role.
"I can only employ three and a half staff per 100,000 constituents.
"Everybody's job has changed in London and the local office, there was a very substantial reshuffle."
Mrs Nurick told the tribunal she would have taken a pay cut to stay working for her friend.
But she admitted she would not have been able to carry out the new role created by the MP in the staff reshuffle and would have turned it down had it been offered to her.
Mrs Nurick told the hearing that she was unable to undertake employment for more than two days a week at the Devizes office.
She said: "I wouldn't have been able to argue with her that she needed to make the change to someone who books in surgery appointments and has a local policy role too.
"But I wouldn't have been interested in a four-day-week role it would have been difficult.
I couldn't have done it for other work commitments."
Mrs Nurick also added that had the four-day-a-week job been offered under a job share policy she may have been prepared to undergo a pay-cut to keep her job.
She said: "Had I had the opportunity to talk with her I would have asked her to think about the structure of the job.
"She could have continued to employ Tamara Reay in a local policy capacity which is what she wanted and I could have done the surgery booking.
"If I had been consulted I would have said I would have preferred to reduce my salary and that may have helped the figures."
However she refused to reveal by how much but stated outright she would not have volunteered or worked for "significantly less" than she had before.
She said: "I have not thought about volunteering, in the circumstances it would be a smack in the face to volunteer in the office with Ms Reay there and being paid to do what I did."
Mrs Nurick, who worked for Mrs Perry's predecessor Mr Ancram for eight years before joining the current MP's office, said she had looked for other jobs but had restricted her search to local, part time jobs and was not prepared to give up her time or money to drive somewhere else.
She is claiming compensation from Mrs Perry for loss of earnings until the next parliamentary election in three years' time.
Although the MP has conceded that the dismissal was procedurally unfair she still maintains there was a valid reason for it.
Tribunal chairman Mrs J Mulvaney reserved her judgement.