Councillor Danny Myers, leader of the City of York Council’s main opposition Labour Group, has accused the Lib-Dem council leader, Councillor Keith Aspden, of going into hiding after a stinging report by the council’s independent external auditor over his administration’s payoff of a senior council officer.
The interim report, by external auditor Mazars, highlighted how the whole process leading to the payoff of the council’s former chief executive was flawed, concluding that there is no evidence in the payoff decision “that the council acted in the public interest”. The report also criticised Cllr Aspden for not declaring a prejudicial interest while chairing the secret meeting at which the payout was agreed. Cllr Aspden had been named in the employment tribunal case of the former Chief Exec.
The report by Mazars also pointed out:
- elements of the payout did not have to be paid under contracts but were paid at the council’s discretion
- the business case considered by councillors at the secret meeting did not include enough facts, both on finance and on the background to the situation, for members to take an informed decision
- records were not maintained that document the use of public money under the scheme of delegation
- safeguards to stop people taking decisions where they have a conflict of interest were not maintained
“The Council Leader has gone into hiding this week after the report from the independent external auditors was published,” said Cllr Myers. “Residents are rightly concerned about a misuse of public funds and yet, instead of personally responding to the report and demonstrating leadership, the Council Leader is instead sending out others to defend his actions; frankly, it is not what is expected from someone in his position.
“The reputation of the council and of the city is being damaged by this scandal. While the role of Council Leader is one that demands key decisions are taken, it also demands responsibility and accountability for these decisions when they are questioned and challenged.
“This is a serious matter involving a very large sum of public money. In particular, the Leader needs to address the point auditors raise about issues around conflicts of interest, and how the business case for paying off the former chief executive was both incomplete and inaccurate when he led the decision to stop her employment tribunal case against him, by paying her to leave – together with a gagging clause.
“What we have at present is contempt for the city and our residents in how public money is being used, and the silence from the Council Leader and the wriggling responses from those around him is simply a case of Liberal Democrats trying to defend the indefensible.
“He ought to respond now to the calls for his resignation and to the independent report from Mazars into the whole sorry affair. This is a gross failure of leadership and not what the people of York deserve in the running of their local council”.