Cumbria County Council has now published the minutes of the meeting of its Chief Officers’ Panel (COP) which was held on Tuesday, 23rd April, 2013 at 11.00 am. This wouldn’t normally be an event of any great interest to the general public. However, this is the meeting which took the highly controversial decision to approve the departure of its Chief Executive, at a reported cost to the council tax payers of Cumbria of some £400k.
Councils have the power to exclude press and public from meetings when there are ‘exempt items’ being discussed. The Council used this power during this meeting, on the grounds that the meeting was considering Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information) (paragraph 3 of part 1 of schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972). So anyone looking for a complete open book about this affair is likely to be disappointed.
Despite this, there were a couple of interesting notes in the minutes:
- the meeting was considering a request from the Chief Executive for early retirement in the interest of efficiency of the service (ERIES)
- at one point the council officers were asked to leave the room so private discussions could take place: following an adjournment of approximately twenty minutes the meeting reconvened
Let’s break the first one down:
- The request for voluntary early retirement had come from the employee, so it was entirely up to the COP to decide whether to accept the request
- If the request was approved, then under the rules of the pension scheme, the Council would have to make an additional payment into the scheme (this is a mathematical formula based on covering the ‘actuarial strain’)
- Because of this extra cost, the Council has a strict policy on granting ERIES requests: the full additional estimated cost of the termination must be shown to be recoverable within three years of the employee’s termination date
So, did the COP have the full business case in front of them as required by policy? did they know exactly how the Council was going to recover the costs over the next three years? Remember, only nine days after this meeting, all the members in the room would be up for election, and the Leader of the Council (and Chair of this COP) had already announced he would not be standing again.
And why were officers excluded from the room during the vital 20 minutes when the decision was taken? These are not junior staff members, but the Council’s legal, and financial and HR heavyweights: Assistant Director – Finance; Interim Assistant Director – Legal & Democratic Services; Assistant Director – People Management. In fact, just the sort of people you would want to have in the room when you were taking a sensitive and controversial decision.