Council Paid Former Chief Executive Too Much To Leave Says Auditor

Philip Hygate took early retirement in January

Philip Hygate took early retirement in January

The Council appears to have paid the former Chief Executive Philip Hygate too much as part of a compromise agreement to leave the authority.

That’s the view of their external auditors Grant Thornton.

Mr Hygate took early retirement in January and was paid a year’s salary, or £88,800, as part of a £204,000 severance package.

This also included pension payments, removal costs and a retraining allowance.

But in a ‘Value for Money’ statement issued this week, auditor Simon Garlick says that Mr Hygate appeared to be entitled to just £22,200, or three months pay, rather than the full year he received.

He raises concerns that Mr Hygate’s employment contract wasn’t actually signed, even though he’d worked for the Council for 24 years.

And Mr Garlick says the authority took the decision to terminate the former Chief Executive’s contract without knowing the cost of giving him access to his pension five years early.

When that figure was known, it wasn’t brought back to councillors to decide if they still wanted to go ahead.

Mr Garlick says there appeared to be “a breakdown in the working relationship between Members and officers.”

And he urged the authority to address “not just its management structures but also the culture of the Council.”

But overall, the auditor said the Council is still delivering value for money.

Responding to the auditor’s criticism, Interim Chief Executive Barry Keel, who was brought in after Mr Hygate left, says that the authority was dealing with a difficult situation at the time.

He says the relationship between the Council and the former Chief Executive had broken down and the advice from lawyers and the Local Government Association was to negotiate their way out of the situation.

The auditor was also contacted in December 2012 for advice, but due to the tight timelines wasn’t able to provide “a substantive response.”

Barry says he can understand from the paperwork the auditor received, why he might have come to the conclusion that he did.

But he says the Council “took the pragmatic approach and moved on.”

The employment of local authority Chief Executives in the UK is covered by special laws designed to avoid political interference, and this adds an extra layer of regulation.

Barry says the cultural problems mentioned by the auditor have either already been tackled or are in the process of being addressed, but as a temporary appointment, there’s a limit to what he can do.

But he says it will be high on the list of priorities for the new Chief Executive to deal with and the Members recognise that too.

Barry says local government is actually very simple. “It’s about providing the best possible services to the community we serve. Full stop.”

He says the Council now intends to “get things right and do things in a professional, efficient manner.”

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