Opposition councillors continue to seek answers to unanswered questions around the process leading to the former Chief Executive being paid to leave City of York Council. A secret committee approved an ‘early retirement’ payoff of £400k to the former Chief Executive earlier this year, but only after she took out an employment tribunal case against Liberal Democrat council leader Keith Aspden. Labour voted against the payoff but the majority Lib-Dem and Green ruling Councillors, including Cllr. Aspden, nodded it through.
Now Mazars, the council’s independent external auditors are calling into question the advice provided to the Councillors who approved the payoff. In part due to these concerns, they are yet to give the Council’s accounts a clean bill of health.
“Mazars are clearly raising questions,” said Labour councillor Pete Kilbane, “and raising the possibility of irregularities in the process that led to Lib Dems and Greens approving the former Chief Exec’s bumper payoff, so we need clarity on whether or not the advice given to councillors approving her exit was accurate.
“In addition, questions have been raised about whether or not the former Chief Exec was paid in full beyond six months of absence, when council HR policy dictates staff pay reduces to 50% after six months of absence. Did this happen and if so, why? Did Liberal Democrats allow this to happen with one eye on the employment tribunal lodged personally against their Leader?
“Whatever the answer, the ousting of the chief executive has cost the local taxpayer in excess of £0.5m overall, and provides further evidence were it needed, of the biggest scandal to hit York council in recent memory.
“Senior Executive councillors and officers need to confirm in detail what process was followed and what steps were taken to support the former Chief Executive back to work, if any. I doubt that normal procedures were followed and, given the breakdown in the relationship between the Leader and Chief Exec, it is reasonable to conclude that he wanted her out the door, whether or not she was off sick. Was she treated differently to other council staff who are ill long term and if so, why?
“We will not be able to begin the clean-up of this scandal until more information is brought out into the public domain. We need some transparency over the specific contractual obligations York Council had to the outgoing Chief Executive. We already know extra payments were made to get Ms Weastell to drop her claim against Cllr. Aspden and the council, but given the auditor’s comments, we need a clear breakdown of what was contractual and which payments were discretionary”.
Labour voted against the deal, and challenged Cllr. Aspden for not declaring his own interest in the case, given he was subject to an employment tribunal case by the person he was paying to leave the council quietly. The council has declined to investigate claims of an undeclared conflict of interest for Cllr. Aspden and his involvement in this decision.
“The public know something is wrong here,” Cllr Kilbane concluded. “It is a slowly unfolding scandal that will gradually envelop the senior leadership of City of York Council and is undermining any confidence York people still had in how the council is being run”.