Council accused of trying to make chief executive’s bumper payoff ‘disappear’ – as post is axed for good

Council leader Keith Aspden
26 Aug 2020 @ 7.33 am
| Politics

York’s chief executive has gone – with a huge taxpayer-funded payoff. And now the role is set to be axed too.

City of York Council has agreed to change to a new chief operating officer model, ditching the chief executive role after the post was made redundant following former boss Mary Weastell’s departure.

She left with a £404,000 payout, sanctioned by council leader Keith Aspden, even as she was planning to take him and the authority to an employment tribunal. Those proceedings were dropped after the payment was agreed.

Now the council is planning a shake-up at the top – but the Labour opposition has criticised the decision.

Group leader Cllr Danny Myers said: “Labour opposes the Lib Dem council leader’s efforts to make his bumper payoff of the former chief executive disappear.

“In this decision the council has closed its face to working with partners, and ignored their wishes to see a collaborative council with strong leadership in our city, in favour of an option that looks inward at itself, ignoring the fact that challenges of the city at present are overcome by working with a wide range of organisations for the collective greater good.

“It doesn’t change the fact that the Lib Dem led council has wasted £500k of residents’ money getting rid of its top officer for no good reason.”

£95K savings

The staffing matters and urgency committee has agreed to move to the chief operating officer model.

It was the recommendation of the Local Government Association, commissioned by York council to review its structure.

The model sees a chief operating officer in charge, rather than the chief executive, who will “focus on operational delivery and service coordination as opposed to strategic management or the ambassadorial role often undertaken by the typical chief executive role,” a council report says.

The restructuring is forecast to save about £95K per year, and the chief operating officer’s pay is capped at £145,931 on the highest pay level, as opposed to the chief executive role, which can rise to £153,891.

Consultation will now take place with affected staff before the changes are implemented.

‘Leave it to new mayor’

York council’s last chief executive, Mary Weastell

York resident and local government expert Gwen Swinburn told the meeting that, with devolution proposals underway, this was not the time for these changes.

“The LGA advice to you made it clear, as devolution is upon us, that now is a bad time to be making management changes.

“In a matter of months major responsibilities will be removed from this council to a new Mayor.

“Also this poorly performing undersized unitary will likely be combined with other authorities to finally give it a chance to be efficient and effective. This should inevitably result in a major review and downsize of many duplicate or supernumerary management positions.”

But leader Keith Aspden welcomed the decision. “The new chief operating officer model will place emphasis on operational delivery and service coordination, in order to make sure our residents receive the very best service from the council, particularly at a time when people need our services the most.”

And the Lib Dems group deputy leader Cllr Anne Hook added: “Particularly at a time when we are facing major financial difficulties and increased demand for services, it is paramount to look into all possible options for generating savings.

“Moving ahead with the new corporate management reforms, which will ensure the head of paid service is focused on the best interest of the city at this difficult time, presents us with a chance to invest in our city and the ongoing recovery efforts.

“We see no need to take lectures from the York Labour group, who during their period of control were infamous for lavishing taxpayers money on vanity projects and bodged bridge closures.”