Council keep taxpayers in the dark

The Epsom and Ewell Times has previously reported the surprise resignation / departure (?) of Kathryn Beldon, the Council’s Chief Executive Officer.  The Strategy and Resources committee decided on Monday night (July 4th) to exclude press and public from its meeting to discuss the recruitment of a new CEO.

The motion to hold the meeting in private was opposed by Cllr. David Gulland (Lib Dem, College Ward) and Cllr. Kate Chinn (Labour, Court Ward), arguing that there was no reason for any of the information that would be discussed to be exempt from public scrutiny.

But the council officer presenting the report responded that, while it was a decision ultimately for councillors to make, it would be difficult to discuss the matter without referring to the financial remuneration of other individuals employed by the council.  The committee chairman, Cllr Neil Dallen (Res Ass, Town Ward) suggested to the meeting that this would restrict the discussion needed.

A vote on Cllr. Gulland’s motion to keep the meeting open to the public was defeated by 5 votes to 2.  The public gallery was therefore cleared and the ensuing discussion in private lasted for about an hour.

The S&R meeting was immediately followed by a meeting of the Full Council, where Cllrs. Gulland and Chinn again argued that the discussion should be held in the open, but were again defeated by the Residents’ Association majority.

The public is still none the wiser in terms of what was discussed or what conclusions were reached.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has been contacted and advises:

“In recent years public authorities have published an increasing
amount of information on salaries of public sector officials.
Government departments and other public bodies now routinely
publish the names, job titles and salaries of senior civil servants on
www.data.gov.uk, as part of the government’s policy on open data
and transparency. Salaries are given in bands of £5,000 (eg
£120,000 to £124,999). For more junior posts the job title and pay
scales are shown.
It is well-established practice that local authorities, fire and police
authorities and certain other public bodies in England publish
salary-related information in their annual accounts. For example, for
each employee who earned over £50,000 in the previous year, they
publish actual salaries, allowances, bonuses, compensation and
employer’s pension contributions. This also includes the names of
those staff who earned over £150,000.”

The Epsom and Ewell Times will apply to Epsom and Ewell Borough Council for full disclosure of all the secret papers of the meetings of 4th July and the minutes. Failing which an appeal will be made to the ICO as Epsom and Ewell Council’s secrecy appears to be contrary to the spirit of the age of transparency and accountability.

5th July the Council made a statement through its press office: “These meetings were part of the required democratic process to ensure a robust recruitment of the most senior Chief Officer position of the Council. “