THE mystery thickens on Camden Council’s secret pay-off deals. In recent weeks, we’ve seen both Lib Dem councillor Flick Rea and Conservative group leader Claire-Louise Leyland poke around looking for extra information surrounding a bill of more than £3 million for compromise agreements paid to departing Town Hall staff. These deals each came with a silencer clause, meaning getting to the bottom of whether this use of public money was sensible or not has not been simple.
The rumbling rumour that one departee collected £50,000, leaving with a gag in their mouth, has done little to stem the intrigue on the opposition benches, and to be fair, among some interested Labour councillors too. Camden won’t discuss individual cases.
The motivation behind the drive to uncover more about the payments, it should be recognised, appears to be split. There are some people who feel the pay-offs have been used too readily and the spend is too high. On that note, Camden will say that compromise agreements are a norm in local government and for that matter any large institution, and that the council is being unfairly singled out here. In a wave of redundancies caused by the cuts, unions will also defend their members receiving payments, especially as the majority are not receiving anywhere near £50,000 as they leave.
But there are others pushing for more information because they are interested in the secrecy, rather than the expenditure. Away from the blur of the big number, there is interest in knowing more about three or four departures in particular, and what the people who left, if they could speak openly and freely, would say about the people they worked with and what their life at the council was like.
In the meantime, the headline pay-offs figure has been adopted by the Conservatives. Last week, it was raised in the House of Commons by Crawley’s Tory MP Henry Smith in the following exchange with Eric Pickles, who, as you will see, was lured into making a joke about fast cars rather than responding to developments in Camden.
HENRY SMITH: A recent TaxPayers Alliance study identified that the chief executive of Pembrokeshire council had a Porsche funded at a cost of some £90,000 and that, in Camden, £3.25 million had been spent on so-called gagging orders for employees who were leaving. What more can be done to bear down on these unnecessary costs that burden the taxpayer?
ERIC PICKLES: Transparency is the order of the day. It is sad that the kind of information available to English taxpayers is not available to their Welsh counterparts. With regard to Mr Bryn Parry Jones’s Porsche, if any chief executive puts in a Porsche as part of their terms of contract, I think that is a cry for help. The chap is obviously suffering from a mid-life crisis, and the council would have been better spending money on getting him some professional help.