Southport Lawyer is ‘paid off’ by Cheshire council in fall-out from town hall scandal
Caroline Ellwood, former Borough Solicitor of Sefton MBC, has been paid-off from a similar position at Cheshire East Unitary Council as councillors at the Conservative-run local authority try to take hold of a growing scandal. Mrs Ellwood and Deputy Chief Executive John Nicholson resigned in December and councillors are demanding to know why they are receiving payments in lieu of notice when they officially left of their own accord.
The pair were among a number of officers questioned as part of an independent inquiry into the conduct of staff after an internal audit revealed a catalogue of errors in relation to the council’s abortive plans to build the controversial Lyme Green waste transfer station at Macclesfield.
According to Private Eye, and other more local sources, the two council chiefs walked away with only their minimum entitlement which is three month’s salary. The conclusion of the independent report on the Lyme Green project about the role played by the Council’s officers has not yet been publicly-disclosed.
Independent Cheshire East Councillor Brendan Murphy is baffled about the payment.
“They were accused but have not been found guilty by any due process,” he said, “But if they are resigning voluntarily, why are we paying them to leave?”
Cheshire East Labour spokesman Councillor Sam Corcoran, said:
“These are two of the most senior posts in the council. The chief executive of Cheshire East Council resigned only five months ago with a pay-off of over £90,000 and her post is currently being covered by a temporary placement. This leaves the council with only two permanent staff covering the top five positions in the authority.”
In fact, within weeks, the number was down to just one.
Cheshire Independent Councillor David Brickhill said:
“It’s another disaster for Cheshire East because we are now without two senior officers,” he said. “Temporary people can only hold the fort and no sort of progress or improvement will go forward until we get new officers, then they’re going to take at least three months to get used to things.”
Referring to the payment in lieu of notice, a council spokesman said:”It would be wholly inappropriate for us to comment.”
The council’s Chief Executive of the Council, Erika Wenzel, had already been paid-off with £93,000 after spending three months on ‘sick leave’ following exposure of a waste-management plant contract being actioned without either tendering or planning permission being sought.
Wilmslow’s independent community website www.wilmslow.co.uk reports:
“The actions of John Nicholson and Caroline Elwood, along with another senior member of staff, were examined by a Designated Independent Person (DIP), in connection with Cheshire East Council’s plans to build a recycling station at the Lyme Green site in Macclesfield.
“The Council spent over £800,000 of taxpayers money on the aborted Lyme Green scheme and broke planning rules as the main contractor commenced work on the site three weeks before a planning application was submitted. In addition officers did not comply with EU Procurement Regulations or ensure there was effective reporting to members of the council.”
The Council’s Cabinet member for the Environment, Councillor Rod Menlove, and two senior officers have already resigned during the fall-out from the scandal. And all remaining senior management staff members at the Council are now having to re-apply for their own jobs:
Interim chief executive Kim Ryley said the debacle had ‘exposed serious weaknesses in our organisational culture’.
“The lessons from the Lyme Green project, coupled with the significant challenges involved in delivering the council’s ambitious service transformation plan, mean that it is a similarly good time for us to make changes in our management roles and responsibilities.”
Within days, however, Lisa Quinn, the council’s Director of Finance and Business Services, has been suspended from work, making her the fourth top officer to leave within months. Attempts by local residents to have the independent report into the scandal made public, using Freedom of Information legislation, have so far been resisted by the Council leaders.
Birkdale resident Mrs Ellwood was paid-off from her £90,000 per year job with Sefton MBC a couple of years ago with enhanced £250,000 pension contributions. She claimed in court that she was also entitled to a five-figure redundancy pay-off because of restructuring. but she lost the case. Sefton Council said that it decided it did not need to have legal services provided at such a high-paid level after Ms Ellwood had shown a wish to leave.. She contested the pay-out figure in court, demanding a further £43,000 pay-out, saying she had been discriminated against – but lost the case.
Mrs Ellwood was famously Sefton’s top legal adviser at the time that the Council’s Conservative and Labour councillors unlawfully decided to make former Chief Executive Graham Heywood ‘redundant’.This process would have gone through were it not for the fortuitous decision of Princess Alexandra to visit Ainsdale Methodist Church on a particular day. Former Conservative Councillor Brenda Porter preferred to attend the royal visit rather than attend the Cabinet meeting and the Liberal Democrats were given a majority at the meeting. This enabled them to force through a vote to commission barrister’s advice on the matter, which advice then went to a special meeting of the Council which halted the unlawful action. Mr Heywood subsequently opted to take Early Retirement.
The government has expressed serious concerns about the ‘money-go-round’ where senior council officers depart their jobs with large pay-offs, sometimes ‘under a cloud’, and then end up receiving even more money doing similar function in another local authority.
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