Embattled York council leader gives his full response to the damning audit report into secret payout
City of York Council leader Keith Aspden has responded to a report by independent auditors that found he was accused of bullying by the former chief executive.
Auditors also said he had a “clear personal interest” at the secret meeting at which the former chief executive’s payout was agreed.
He was advised he had no direct pecuniary interest as insurance arrangements were in place – but encouraged to “consider his position” by the council’s monitoring officer.
Cllr Aspden said: “As elected councillors, we have to rely on our adopted codes in place and the external legal and officer advice given.
“This includes the advice my colleagues and I received from legal officers, which on this occasion was that there was no pecuniary or financial interest to declare on the specific decision being made.
“The council’s adopted Code of Conduct in place is clear and states that ‘you do not have a prejudicial interest in any business of the authority where that business: (a) does not affect your financial position’.
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“Being council leader requires you to represent the distinct and diverse communities across the city, and crucially, to speak up and make decisions for the city. I continue to learn every day and, with the ever-evolving challenges of the pandemic, there is no doubt it has been a tough year for everyone.”
“We welcome the auditors’ work on the accounts and their recommendations.
“The annual audit process is important in reviewing and improving internal procedures, ensuring residents continue to receive value for money; and each year, recommendations are made across local authorities in the UK.
“We have now asked the council to develop an action plan, which must build on the audit recommendations and provide further assurances to councillors and residents.
“We know that there is certainly more that can be done at City of York Council to improve upon governance arrangements and, more widely, bolster existing processes.
“Work has already started to address this, including the new director of governance role and investment to update the council’s constitution.
“The action plan will complement the work already underway and must include creating a revised constitution, a new model code of conduct, template reports and decision logs.
“We have made significant savings in senior management costs.
“By deleting the chief executive post and a director post, along with other senior management roles, this administration has saved taxpayers more than £200,000, every year, moving forward.
“These savings in senior management costs see Liberal Democrats deliver on a key manifesto pledge from the 2015 and 2019 local elections.
“This money will be invested back into taxpayers’ priorities, not just as a one-off, but annually.
“It is crucial to deliver tough efficiency savings like this, particularly at a time when local councils across the country face the biggest financial challenge seen in modern history, brought about by the pandemic and a decade of chronic Government underfunding.
“As ever, our focus remains the delivery of real tangible improvements for residents, communities and businesses, particularly as we focus on recovery from the pandemic.
“Moving forward, cost savings made from senior management, will allow further progress to be made on the major priorities for the city, including protecting frontline services, delivering York Central, tackling climate change, delivering more affordable housing and improving our health and social care services for residents.”