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City Council leader keeps staff redundancy costs secret

Author: 
John Freeman
(Updated 30/4/10, Council statement added): City Council leader Stuart Langhorn - also and prospective candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood in the General Election - appears to be keeping decisions on the full cost of recent staff redundancies secret, despite accusing other parties of trying to hide discussions on costs of councillor allowances from public gaze (see earlier news story).

Minutes of the Cabinet meeting of 20 April (PDF) include reference to the restructuring of the Council's Senior Management in a Cabinet decision presided over by Stuart Langhorn. It relates to the expenditure of an amount of public money other councillors are prohibited from disclosing -- but it will have consequences for the future functioning of the City Council that our elected representatives are prohibited from identifying.

The published minutes of the meeting available to the public seem to suggest these costs appear to relate to redundancy payouts for senior and long-serving staff who have recently left the Council's employ as part of ongoing restructuring.

The Council's Chief Executive Mark Cullinan submitted a report at the meeting, which is exempt from publication by virtue of part of the Local Government Act 1972, to enable Cabinet to consider the next phase of the Senior Management Restructure.

JRMace.jpgConservative councillor leader Roger Mace has challenged the secrecy, but in response to asking when it would be possible to quote from the figures in the exempt agenda document, he was told that the costs would remain secret until Cabinet agreed to make them public.

"Sorry," he was told, "I can't specify any point in time when the restriction on this report might be lifted, as exempt reports remain exempt until Cabinet resolves to lift the exemption."

"This is yet another example of the Liberal Democrat led Council making decisions behind closed doors. So much for transparency and openness in local government," argues Roger of the City's increasingly Kafka-esque style of administration, seen most evidently in its controversial handling over proposals on the future for Lancaster Market.

"In my speech explaining to Council the Conservative Group's rejection of the City Council's budget on 3 March this year, I said "... the City Council is likely to be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay senior employees not to work for the Council, instead of paying them to work for the council".

Responding to our story, Lancaster City Council told virtual-lancaster: "Without exception reports are exempt in situations where they refer to individual members of staff and their employment with the council as it would be unfair to them to have their personal circumstances discussed in public."

Earlier this month, the Daily Telegraph reported that, nationally, hundreds of council staff have netted at least £35 million in redundancy payouts after a controversial shake-up of local Government left them without a job.

While the report relates to the creation of 'cost-saving' unitary authorities, the potential costs of senior staff redundancies it reveals is, perhaps, an indication of what the Council leader continues to keep secret.

In Cornwall, This is Cornwall reported last October that Council Chief Executive Kevin Lavery told cabinet members it had cost as much as £1 million to make 30 members of staff redundant. The Council there has been taken to task by trade unions for trying to reduce the redundancy payouts without consultation.

Last month, the Sheffield newspaper The Star reported that senior council staff laid off as part of a cull of senior management pocketed redundancy settlements averaging £101,000 - and the authority's Liberal Democrat leader Paul Scriven has been slammed for the cost of the redundancies.

"Is Councillor Langhorn keen to keep decisions secret until after the General Election?" Roger asks. "Why else did he fail to ask Cabinet on 20 April to lift the exemption from publication imposed on the financial aspects of the decision?"

• Thousands of council staff across the UK are facing the prospect of potential redundancy, but no major political party is offering details of how large such costs may be after the General Election.

Eleswhere, other Councils appear to be more open about redundancy plans. Last December, Bedford Today reported that one in five Central Bedforshire Council staff may lose their jobs in 2010, according to the authority's new chief executive Richard Carr. In January, Nottingham City Council confirmed it was looking to axe 350 jobs to help plug a £20m shortfall in next year's budget and its Chief Executive was challenged by the local newspaper the Evening Post over the cost of agency staff and other issues - but refused to answer questions posed by trade union Unison in public, despite the obvious upset the plans were causing staff.
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