'Reckless use of our money' must not happen again - council

March 27 2019

A PAYOUT of nearly £100,000 to a former chief executive of Bristol City Council has been defended by the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, at a full council meeting where recommendations for the future practice of the council’s severance policy were also voted through.

A PAYOUT of nearly £100,000 to a former chief executive of Bristol City Council has been defended by the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, at a full council meeting where recommendations for the future practice of the council’s severance policy were also voted through.
Councillors met on March 19 to discuss a report by auditors BDO, which appeared on the council’s website on March 11. The report found that half of the £98,000 paid to Anna Klonowski after she resigned in 2017 was non-contractual and discretionary, which has raised concerns about transparency.
During the meeting, Marvin Rees defended the decision to pay Klonowski a five-figure sum, stating that the administration had acted on legal advice. He also claimed that no procedures had been put in place for the severance of senior members of staff.
During the evening it was revealed that only one quarter of BDO’s report has been made public.
Geoff Gollop, Conservative Councillor for Henleaze and Westbury-on-Trym, told the Henleaze and Westbury Voice: “For over a year opposition councillors have been calling for more details. The details did not come from the Mayor, but from the council’s auditors in a report that highlighted his lack of judgement and a lack of transparency.
“I have never seen a politician look so uncomfortable throughout the debate, even the Mayor’s fellow Labour councillors were embarrassed by his performance. This was reckless use of OUR money which should have been spent on Bristol residents.”
Anthony Negus, leader of the Lib Dem group, had strong words for the Mayor: “The public need to see what is going on. You should consider your position.”
Green Party councillor Paula O’Rourke said:  “So, we have paid £21K on top of the external lawyers’ fees and the £98K discretionary payment because the Mayor chose to keep this decision hidden.  The HR committee has actively been involved in considering the severance packages for many senior officers - just not this one.
“The HR committee has reacted and endeavoured to control the power of the Mayor.  After Nicola Yates [a previous chief executive] left with a large payout, the committee decided that the chief exec should be offered a fixed term contract, aligned with the municipal calendar to avoid expensive personality clashes.  When the HR committee realised that the Mayor had exercised his right to make the payment to Anna Klonowski without bringing it before the committee, we ensured that future contracts were amended to fix this.
“The report says that it was unusual for a severance package not to be brought to HR, so all of this is caused by the Mayor having the power to choose to keep secrets.  And this expensive report does not really get to the heart of the story.”
Stoke Bishop resident Graham Donald launched a petition last year calling for a full independent inquiry to be held into the recruitment for and departure from her post of the former chief executive. In a public statement to full council he said: “I’ve asked a number of questions about this previously and I’ve been fobbed off at every turn. The key underlying issue of transparency has still not been addressed, the lack of a recorded decision trail makes it impossible to achieve a definitive conclusion. As a Bristol resident I’m embarrassed to read such as indictment of poor practice. I live in hope that even if the errors of the past aren’t admitted the recommendations in this report will be implemented.”
During the meeting councillors voted through a series of recommendations for the future practice of the council’s severance policy, which included writing down the process for approving severance packages for senior staff, the HR Committee and/or Full Council approving any severance payment to the Head of Paid Service, and ensuring that accounts clearly show what departing senior staff have been paid.