Monday, 5 July 2010

Compensation for loss of office - an update

Last week I blogged about the payoff of £78,750 received by the former Director of Corporate Support, Peter Lewis. Just to recap - the Chief Executive put out a statement which seemed to imply that Peter left entirely voluntarily. I questioned why anyone who left of their own volition should get a payoff of nearly £80k.

I have had a series of email exchanges with both Kevin Lavery (Chief Executive) Richard Williams (Head of Legal Services). The key information from these exchanges is as follows:

- The reason why the amount paid to Peter Lewis has been made public, but amounts paid to officers who left previously have not, is that the law changed. The Accounts and Audit (Amendment No.2) (England) Regulations 2009 came into law in December last year and therefore affected the departure of Mr Lewis, but not others.

- Quote from Richard Williams: 'Compromise Agreements were a standard means by which the arrangements for staff departures from organisations were set out when such departures were individually negotiated and that confidentiality clauses were standard provisions in such Agreements.'

Which I take to mean that confidentiality clauses have been standard in the past and will remain so.

- Quote from Richard Williams: 'The Chief Executive kept the Leader and the relevant Cabinet Member advised of the negotiations which he properly undertook as part of his delegated powers. He took advice in relation to those negotiations from the Assistant Director of HR and (Richard Williams) and we were satisfied that it was appropriate for the Council to enter into the Compromise Agreement on the terms set out therein.'

My take on this statement is that the negotiations took place between Kevin Lavery and Peter Lewis alone. Elected members were told what was going on, but were not asked to agree the confidentiality clause or the amount.

I don't believe that the interests of Cornwall taxpayers are being best served by continuing to have secret pay offs for departing top staff. There have been various (contradictory) rumours circulating about Mr Lewis' departure. With everyone who knows what happened bound to secrecy, there is no way of stopping such rumours - however obviously silly.

I think it is essential that, where pay offs are being considered, elected members are closely involved in the process from start to finish and they are accountable for the decisions that are taken.

Alec Robertson and Jim currie talk all the time about 'openness and transparency'. In the case of the departure of Peter Lewis, it seems clear that the Council is being far from open or transparent. As both council tax payers and as councillors, I think we deserve to know why senior officers are leaving and why any pay off is being made.

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