Senior officer in Hull walks away with £77K

Councils are apparently the most efficient of all public sector organisations. I have always thought this was more a reflection of the state of government departments and Quangos, rather than saying councils are efficient. All too often we see examples of wasteful council largesse, and this story is no exception.

Until recently, Susan de Val was the chief legal officer for Hull City Council. The legal department has had more of its fair share of problems in the last few years, and she is the second chief legal officer to resign in the last four years. When I say resign, I mean she jumped before she was pushed. In recent months the advice from the legal department has not been of the highest quality. This has left egg on the faces of some senior councillors and senior officers, therefore a change at the top was needed.

What happened next is a classic example of someone in the public sector being rewarded for failure. Ms De Val, who has only been working for the authority for two years, has walked away with £77k. The council's reasoning is it would have had to appoint an independent advisor to investigate Ms De Val's conduct, and would have also had to suspend her on full pay. Paying her off was seen as the cheapest option, and she will also have waived her right to take the council to an employment tribunal.

She has now freely walked away from Hull City Council with an officially unblemished record. The council cannot give her a bad reference. As matters have not been properly investigated, anything anyone says about her is hearsay. I have no doubt all she will do is take a short holiday, and then pick-up another council job, probably on an interim basis on an inflated salary, until the dust settles and a permanent job becomes available.

This is what will happen to Andrea Hill, the chief executive of Suffolk County Council who walked away with £218k this week. There seems to be a council merry-go-round, where you get paid off, walk into another job, get paid off again, and then walk into yet another. Taxpayers lose out as these people get wealthy at our expense. When you ask some of these high-earning officers to take a voluntary pay cut, most will laugh in your face.

While no one wants a lengthy and expensive disciplinary process, at the same time no one should benefit financially as a result of their incompetence. This is what appears to have happened in this case. I have already written about some of the spending decisions of Hull City Council. Since the new administration took over in May, £500k has been spent on reducing the cost of school meals for all primary school children in the city, irrespective of whether their parents are on high incomes and do not need a subsidy. Start adding these figures together, along with news today that the council failed to collect nearly £3 million in council tax last year, and you get over £3.5 million that could have been used to fund front line services and perhaps reduce the tax burden for the city's residents.

A few years ago Hull City Council was at the bottom of the pile. It was one of the worst performing councils in the country. Wasting money in the ways I have outlined does not fill me with hope for the future. The council needs to pull its socks up and collect the council tax due, not waste it on subsidising school meals for those who can easily afford to pay the full rate, and certianly not reward senior officers for failure.

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