No further answers on £265k settlement with former county council boss

No further answers on an alleged six-figure settlement to the former boss of West Sussex County Council were released at a meeting last week.

Nathan Elvery, West Sussex County Council's chief executive from 2016 to 2019
Nathan Elvery, West Sussex County Council's chief executive from 2016 to 2019

Nathan Elvery left the authority ‘by mutual consent’ back in November after being ‘away from duties’ for the best part of two months on full pay. It is alleged he received a £265,000 settlement from the county council, although this figure has never been officially confirmed and no reasons have ever publicly been given for his departure.

The county council reportedly also spent more than £35,000 on legal advice before reaching the settlement.

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The payment and the need for greater transparency were both raised on Friday by opposition members.

James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group, called it a ‘highly irresponsible waste of money’ and tabled a series of written questions on the subject.

Meanwhile Labour’s Michael Jones attempted to amend the council’s pay police so any severance payments above £100,000 would have to be voted on by all councillors before they can be agreed.

Mr Jones said the money had been paid to Mr Elvery with ‘minimal if any reference to elected members’. He added: “It certainly does not make this council look very good to its local residents’.

But chairman Janet Duncton instead suggested a report should be prepared for the governance committee on the subject before any decision was taken.

Dr Walsh asked: “Why do we need a report on something that is simple and we can all make a decision on immediately?”

Mr Jones added: “There should be no hesitation on this, what does it need another report for?”

Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for the economy and corporate resources, said: “It would be premature on the spur of the moment to take a decision such as this without considering any impacts. It’s right to wait for the report that the chairman has requested.”

The amendment was easily defeated.

Dr Walsh’s written questions asked the leader Paul Marshall to confirm the £265,000 sum.

The written answer said: “The member has previously been advised of the information and has confirmed his agreement to abide by the terms on which it was provided.”

A follow up question asked: “Does he understand that apparently signing a ‘non-disclosure agreement’ with Mr Elvery over the reasons for his leaving, and over the financial terms only adds to the public and press suspicion of a ‘cover-up’, and the more so when it purported to bind councillors who had not been consulted?”

The written answer said: “The matter was resolved on the basis of contractual obligations upon the council.”

During the budget debate, Conservative David Barling told members he had to say something as a lawyer himself about the criticism of the cabinet in settling with Mr Elvery.

He said: “As a practitioner I can assure you that had I been advising on this I would have advised the same thing. Now the cabinet could have spent a year contesting what would have been a very difficult piece of litigation. They could have wasted a huge amount of time for an uncertain outcome. I understand that counsel’s advice was to the effect that a settlement should be negotiated and the matter moved on. It’s very regrettable but nevertheless it was practicable.”