The elected mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA has weighed in to the controversy surrounding the departure of South Cambridgeshire DC’s chief executive.
In a statement released to the media this afternoon, James Palmer (Con) said the combined authority’s permanent chief executive Martin Whitely had left for less than half of the cost of the £202,500 contribution South Cambridgeshire had made to Beverley Agass’s pension.
Mr Palmer added that he hoped the experience of negotiating the departure of a senior member of staff had given South Cambridgeshire leader Bridget Smith (Lib Dem) a new understanding of why he, as mayor, had not been able to reveal details of Mr Whitely’s departure last August.
Cllr Smith last year put forward a motion at a combined authority meeting calling for Mr Palmer to make the details public as part of a full governance review of the combined authority. However it was voted down by the five Conservative members of the CA cabinet. Freedom of Information requests subsequently established he had been awarded a severance package worth £94,500.
Mr Palmer said: “Of course it’s very frustrating that employment law and the system generally means that such sums have to be paid out when senior officials leave local authorities. On this occasion, [South Cambridgeshire] have paid a departing chief executive over £200,000 for less than two years’ service. Last summer the combined authority saw a chief executive leave for less than half this sum.”
Ms Agass’s departure was announced following a private session of the council’s employment committee on 13 February. The £202,500 was paid to the Local Government Pension Scheme to allow Ms Agass early access to her pension.
Mr Palmer continued: “My understanding is that the meeting that took place to decide matters in relation to the employment status of the chief executive took place behind closed doors and the reasons for the departure are being kept secret. However, it certainly appears to me from the council statement issued that there may well have been a disagreement between the chief executive and the leadership at [South Cambridgeshire].
“I understand that there are occasions where such sensitive employment issues need to be kept confidential. Of course last September [South Cambridgeshire] leader Cllr Smith supported a motion requesting that all details relating to the departure of the former combined authority chief executive be made public. I hope that Cllr Smith now understands why this is not always possible.”
In a statement responding to Mr Palmer’s criticisms Cllr Smith stressed South Cambridgeshire had published the cost to the council of Ms Agass’s departure. She said: “We have followed the correct process in agreeing the chief executive’s retirement and been upfront about the costs.”