Carl Maynard, the leader of Rother District Council, has defended the way in which the council operates. Kris Hopkins, Minister for Local Government, had accused Rother of a lack of transparency over payments made to senior staff.
Hopkins said in a letter to Maynard, dated December 12: “Regulations require that expenditure on remuneration for certain senior staff must be reported in an authority’s annual statement of accounts. That information must be set out according to particular categories, including the total amount of compensation paid for loss of employment paid to each relevant employee. In order to comply with these requirements, most authorities include all relevant payments under each category in a single table, arranged by individual.”
The Minister added: “I understand that this was not the approach that your council took in its accounts for 2013-14. Instead, redundancy payments made to your ex-chief executive and two heads of service are included only within a table collating exit payments by cost band and are not accounted for separately.
“We do not believe that this approach is in line with the requirements of the regulations. Importantly, the council’s current approach would not enable local taxpayers to easily identify the level of payments made to departing senior staff. I would be grateful then if you could provide an explanation of your current approach, particularly if the council has made local taxpayers aware in some other way of the amount spent on these payments.”
Earlier in his letter Hopkins said: “We expect councils to be open and transparent about how they use taxpayers’ money and how they make decisions. By doing so, they give local people the information they need to hold their elected leaders to account.”
He pointed out that a new Local Government Transparency Code came into effect on October 31, 2014. This sets out the minimum data that must be published by councils. “The Government has also introduced a range of measures intended to increase the transparency and accountability of local decisions about the pay and reward of staff, particularly senior staff.”
In an email to Maynard, Rye News asked whether, in view of the Minister’s remarks, Rother would change the way in which it reports this financial information. “Or do you, indeed, think that the new regulations are misguided and, if implemented as outlined by Hopkins, would force councils to be in breach of data protection legislation?”
In reply, Maynard said: “This issue had not been questioned by our auditors and no member of staff received any settlement other than that formally agreed as council policy! Should government wish us to publish the details of a specific settlement in relation to redundancy, ie naming individuals, it is our belief that this would possibly be at odds with the Data Protection Act. We would therefore be seeking an indemnity from government to protect us from any possible legal action in this respect.
“Rother is an open and transparent council and we have no reason to suspect that our procedures are not wholly in order; suffice to say the letter from the minister was a surprise.”
In his reply to the Minister, Maynard ends by saying: “Setting aside the fact that the code was not in place until October 2014 , the council believes that its disclosure with regard to the 2013-14 financial year is compliant with the publication requirements.”