Not for the first time, Kent County Council has shown that when it comes to transparency, its view of what the public has a right to know depends rather on what the circumstances are. It will not, we are told, be disclosing the details of the severance package it has agreed with its departing managing director Katherine Kerswell because it is bound by a confidentiality agreement. Ah, the good old confidentiality clause.
Perhaps with all the frenzy over trying to come to an agreement with Mrs Kerswell, the authority overlooked its new obligations to publish such information under the transparency regime that, to his credit, the communities secretary Eric Pickles has insisted all councils must follow.
Specifically, KCC appears to have not given much thought to a change in the Audit and Account Regulations 2009 that ensures the public is entitled to much more detailed information about the remuneration of senior council staff. This places a requirement on councils to disclose how much senior employees have earned in salary, fees and allowances, bonuses and
“the total amount of any compensation for loss of employment paid to or receivable by the person and any other payments made to or receivable by the person in connection with the termination of their employment by the relevant body.”
In other words, everything about the pay and perks, as well as pension value, of senior staff for the financial year – including their names if they are earning more than £150,000.
So KCC will have to detail the sums involved in scrapping the group managing director’s role when it next publishes its full accounts – probably around June. This does, of course, give the council the advantage of hoping that enough time will have passed for everyone to have forgotten about it but I suspect that may be a vain hope.
So, why doesn’t KCC grasp the nettle instead of hiding behind this fig leaf? One of the reasons is that it has form when it comes to eye-watering pay-offs to departing staff, most notably when it agreed to pay former chief executive Peter Gilroy £200,000 on the day he left the authority as part of the package agreed when his contract was extended by a year.
So, it undoubtedly wants to avoid a further clutch of embarrassing headlines.
Its own avowed approach to transparency is – and I quote from the county council leader Paul Carter – is that
“it is enormously important that residents of the county who pay substantial taxes know where their money goes. We have no problems with that at all.”
Could there be a more compelling case for disclosure of how taxpayers’ money is being spent? KCC is forever telling us how much its controversial re-structuring has saved the taxpayer. And its report proposing the deletion of the post of managing director emphasises how much it will save by not paying her salary – £265,000 a year.
If it can be so transparent on these matters, we are surely entitled to know the other side of the coin.
Paul Francis kentonline 13th Dec 2011