No full votes on six-figure golden goodbyes for top county council staff

West Sussex County Council has been accused of slapping taxpayers in the face after refusing to follow government guidance on six-figure severance pay.

County Hall, Chichester
County Hall, Chichester

At a meeting of the governance committee on Monday (June 23), members of the opposition called for all pay-outs over £100,000 to be voted on by the full council, in line with advice in the Localism Act 2011.

The issue was raised following the outcry in January when it was alleged that former chief executive Nathan Elvery had received more than £250,000 when he parted ways with the council.

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Others have also benefited from a golden handshake and there have been calls for the council to be more open about such financial issues.

As things stand, severance arrangements and payments are determined by officers.

At the meeting, Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) led the call for that to change and for the full council to be involved in any such decisions.

He said: “Anything less would be a dereliction of our duty to the hard-pressed taxpayers of West Sussex.

“It is quite scandalous that matters like this are determined, frankly, by a group of senior officers who are judge and jury in awarding payments to their work colleagues when they are severed from service at the council.”

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) accused the ruling Conservative party of ‘forgetting’ or ‘deciding to ignore’ the outcry over Mr Elvery’s departure.

He said: “The bottom line is that it’s unacceptable that this is just done behind closed doors by officers with little to no reference to elected members.”

Leader Paul Marshall disagreed.

While lauding the ‘significant transparency’ he said had been a key feature of his leadership, he said severance arrangements were ‘clearly of a confidential and contractual relationship’, adding: “It’s an employee relationship which needs to be determined by a senior officer.”

It was also pointed out that any meeting involving such confidential information would be held behind closed doors.

The committee agreed that severance of more than £100,000 to any officer in the corporate leadership team would be consider by chief executive Becky Shaw, the monitoring officer and the chief finance officer.

It would then be looked at by a panel of three to five members of the governance committee, including one member of the opposition, and the chairman of the performance and finance committee.

There were concerns from Amanda Jupp (Con, Billingshurst) who felt the entire issue of employment contracts needed to be examined.

She said: “If a contract says you have to pay severance pay of so much percentage of the annual salary, then you’re always going to get large pay-outs.

“In order to prevent this happening in the future, which is what I believe we would wish to do, we need to look at the employment contracts.

“I really don’t think we are addressing the issue that arose out of the furore that came from the severance pay to the previous chief executive.”

Dr Walsh voted in favour of the committee’s decision but had some strong words after the meeting.

He said: “This is a monstrous slap in the face and affront to all hard-working taxpayers across West Sussex.”

Accusing the council’s leadership of ‘flunking’ the issue, he added: “I am sure that ratepayers and voters in West Sussex won’t forgive the Tories for this profligate waste of public money at election time next year.”

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