Video: After clashes with the Lord Mayor, heated opinions and a knife-edge vote, York council comes to a verdict on its next chief

Lord Mayor of York Janet Lookoer chairing tonight's meeting. Photograph: City of York Council / YouTube
29 Oct 2020 @ 7.58 pm
| Politics

The controversial plan to promote the acting head of City of York Council to be its first ‘chief operating officer’ prompted a heated debate at a virtual meeting tonight (Thursday).

Councillors were asked to approve Ian Floyd to be the COO – replacing the former chief executive Mary Weastell, who departed with a £400K pay-off last year.

And the move was approved – but only by two votes, after three members abstained.

Ian Floyd of City of York Council

It means Mr Floyd will become the new chief on a salary of more than £145,000 a year.

Councillors were warned of ‘legal minefield’ if they didn’t approve the decision by the appointment panel. It was argued that there was no basis to not appoint – and the rules of redundancy, after the post of chief executive was axed, left them little room for manoeuvre.

Earlier, Labour group leader Cllr Danny Myers told YorkMix it was “a backwards step”. At tonight’s meeting he described it as ‘sleazy’.

He says he stated at every opportunity the need to have a recruitment process that included external and internal candidates for this vital position. And when that didn’t happen, he withdrew from the process.

Former Conservative group leader Chris Steward, who was also council leader in 2016, agreed too.

In a tweet he said “@D_J_Myers is mostly spot on. The process is a disgrace.”

Cost ‘outrageous’

Watch the full meeting live via Youtube

At the meeting independent Cllr Dave Taylor said that a coronation was not acceptable and he could not approve the move.

Labour councillor Cllr Katie Lomas said it was wrong to go ahead without a proper selection process.

With the cost savings in mind, Lib Dem Cllr Stephen Fenton asked colleagues to support the appointment.

Conservative group leader Cllr Paul Doughty said he thought the cost of the process had been outrageous and the Tories would not have started from this position.

He said the changes were being rushed through and now was not time to fill the role and the council should continue with Ian Floyd as acting head.

He called for a full search for a candidate in the future. He praised Danny Myres for walking away from the process.

Cllr Paula Widdowson – Photo – City of York Zoom Meeting

For the Lib Dems Cllr Paula Widdowson described Labour’s stance as inflammatory and defamatory gossip.

She questioned how they could fail to support employment law which came in under a Labour Government.

VIDEO – Labour’s Danny Myers called it sleazy and the Lib Dems Paula Widdowson talked of inflamatory language

Campaigner and Lord Mayor cross swords

Gwen Swinburn. Library Picture

The proposal sparked a fiery exchange between the Lord Mayor Janet Looker, who chaired the meeting, and York resident Gwen Swinburn during public participation.

Local Democracy campaigner Ms Swinburn tried to read a statement to councillors via phone but was interrupted by the chair, the Lord Mayor – not for the first time.

You can watch that part on the video below.

Ms Swinburn told the meeting: “Members, please don’t be cowered by the usual legal threats, whatever you are told this process has been flawed, perhaps by design, from the start.

“Since 2010, administrations have come and gone, we have burned through multiple chief officers, good ones always leaving, others being paid off. Over £1m for just three chief officers in recent years.

“Please vote this paper down – whatever the perceived or actual costs of sorting, it it must be worth it.

“Please rest assured, councillors who vote against will be respected for rejecting this recommendation, putting citizens first.”

At the end of the debate, the motion to appoint Mr Floyd as City of York Council’s first chief operating officer was carried by 22 votes to 20, with three councillors abstaining.

The background

Former chief executive Mary Weastell took early retirement in March, with a £400,000 settlement from the council, after being signed off sick since last summer.

It has since emerged that Ms Weastell was taking City of York Council and the council leader, Cllr Keith Aspden, to an employment tribunal. She dropped the tribunal after the pay-out.

It is argued that having a chief operating officer rather than a chief executive post will lead to savings of £95,000.

Labour says any savings were offset by the huge payout to Ms Weastell.

A report to the meeting said the interview panel recommended the appointment of Ian Floyd.