In a report last week, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed the shocking number of payments made by the Treasury using compromise agreements. Over a thousand people received payments totalling £28.4 million. The NAO also condemned the lack of transparency and accountability and said their work was 'hampered by incomplete records and limited access to data'. What the report did not cover were payments made by councils which will dramatically increase the amount of cash paid.
This morning it was revealed in the Hull Daily Mail that East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) made a substantial, probable six-figure payment to a couple who were libelled on the council's website. Utterly false allegations that the couple were guilty of child abuse, other criminal activities and professional misconduct were uploaded after initially being included in formal objections submitted in a planning application.
Although this is different to a payment made to a member of staff under a compromise agreement, there are very strong similarities. Thanks to blundering, taxpayers have had to fork out around £100,000 to sweep the issue under the carpet. The council has then acted in a secretive way, refusing to reveal the exact amount paid and also refusing to admit how much has been paid in similar payments.
The full details of this story will come out in the wash, but this will be thanks to the couple in question coming forward and the Hull Daily Mail printing the story. ERYC would rather none of us knew about this, and is doing its best to make sure we don't find out about other similar payments. The council acted in the same secretive way over a pension top-up payment it made a senior council officer three years ago. On that occasion if someone had not leaked the information to the Yorkshire Post, we would never have found out over £364,000 of taxpayers' money had gone to one person.
Transparency and accountability must be paramount if we are to have any confidence our money is being spent wisely. Sadly, once again, transparency and accountability are not words in the ERYC lexicon.