‘It is a slowly unfolding scandal’: Bumper payoff to York council chief comes under outside scrutiny

19 Nov 2020 @ 5.10 pm
| Politics

Potential ‘irregularities’ over the huge payoff to the former boss of City of York Council have been flagged by outside experts.

Mazars, the council’s external auditors, are yet to give the authority’s 2019-20 accounts a clean bill of health, in part due to concerns around the process leading to former chief executive Mary Weastell leaving with a £400K payout.

The payout was sanctioned by council leader Keith Aspden, even as she was planning to take him and the authority to an employment tribunal. Those proceedings were dropped after the payment was agreed.

Under its significant findings discussed with council managers, the Mazars audit report lists “the regularity and accuracy of the chief executive’s remuneration and exit package disclosures.

“At the time of writing this report this work is still on going.”

That report will go to the audit and governance committee tomorrow (20 November) and opposition Labour councillors are pressing for answers.

More questions

York councillor Pete Kilbane

“Mazars are clearly raising questions 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,” said Labour councillor Pete Kilbane.

“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 half a million pounds overall, and provides further evidence were it needed, of the biggest scandal to hit York council in recent memory.”

‘Playground politics’

Cllr Anne Hook, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said it was “incredibly disappointing that the Labour Group are choosing to continue to play playground politics with an individual HR issue”.

“The Labour Group fully understand that the nature of such HR cases is heavily guided by employment legislation,” she said.

“As an experienced accountant, I can only agree with the council’s officers that it is not unusual for auditors to have questions ahead of the publication of accounts.

“Council officers have provided further information to the auditors, in order to assist with resolving the outstanding points as quickly as possible.

“Instead of focusing on the immediate challenges facing our city, the Labour group continue playing party politics and refuse to engage constructively.

“Whilst it is the privilege of opposition parties to engage in unconstructive headline-chasing with factually incorrect statements, the Liberal Democrats will continue to focus on delivering for the residents of York.”

Cllr Kilbane was unrepentant, saying: “The public know something is wrong here. 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.”