COUNCIL fat cats have been paid more than £7.5 million in golden goodbyes by their public sector employers over the past five years - The Argus can reveal.

More than 170 of the highest paid council officers in the county have been compensated for losing their jobs with payments of up to £269,000 since the 2011/12 financial year.

Critics have welcomed moves by the Government to attempt to stop the “taxpayer-funded gravy train” in its tracks with legislation to limit pay-offs to £95,000 currently being worked up.

The pay-offs, given to staff over and above any contractual payments covering notice or outstanding leave entitlement, come during a period when councils are making more drastic budget cuts cost-cutting than ever before.

Brighton and Hove City Council handed over one of the biggest pay-outs in the past five years with the controversial removal of chief executive Penny Thompson, who left the authority this summer with £269,000, including pension contributions.

West Sussex County Council, which refused to release detail of individual payouts claiming it was sensitive personal data, also shelled out a six-figure sum to outgoing chief executive Kieran Stigant in January 2014.

East Sussex County Council paid out the highest total of all Sussex authorities, with £3.1 million going out to 84 staff since 2011/12 although the authority was quick to point out that none of its payments exceeded £100,000.

Six figure payouts may become a thing of the past after the Government published a draft of its Public Sector Exit Payment Cap of £95,000 last month.

The cap will include all remuneration, including redundancy and voluntary exit payments but payments for unused annual leave and bonuses will remain exempt while the cap can also be waived in exceptional circumstances.

Jonathan Isaby, TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive, said: “This is an extraordinary sum of taxpayers’ money for bloated public sector golden goodbyes.

“Most of those working in the private sector couldn’t dream of redundancy or resignation packages like this and there’s no reason they should pay for public sector top brass to get them.

“The Government’s new proposals need to be watertight to ensure that they can’t be dodged by executives seeking to keep the taxpayerfunded gravy train rolling on.”

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman said the authority had offered a “voluntary severance scheme” which saw 21 senior staff earning more than £50,000 leave within two years.

This was reviewed in 2012 and they with the authority now are only approving payments after consulting a compensation panel and external auditors.

She added: “In making any departure payments, Brighton and Hove City Council seeks best value for money and ensures payments are reasonable within due process and legal requirements.”

An Adur and Worthing Borough Council spokesman said the councils would align their own policies once Parliament had approved the new regulations on pay-offs.

He added: “It must be remembered that settlement packages may include lump sum pension contributions and are dependent on a number of factors including former salary level and length of service.

“We are careful to ensure that any costs associated with loss of office are rendered cost neutral within three years, representing prudent financial planning and maximising value to council tax paying residents.”

An East Sussex County Council spokeswoman said they have authority has a legal obligation under employment law to make redundancy payments when individuals lose their jobs.

She added: “None of the redundancy payments made by East Sussex County Council have been close to a six figure amount.”

A West Sussex County Council spokeswoman said: “Within West Sussex County Council, the number of staff who fall into the categories listed is very small.

“Consequently, it could be possible to identify an individual from the information if we provided it.”


The Argus:

Penny Thompson, former chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council

THE £192,000 Penny Thompson received after upon leaving her role as Brighton and Hove City Council’s chief executive after less than three years could be seen as the last of its kind if new Government rules on golden goodbyes prove effective.

The council boss was rather unceremoniously ousted from her £150,000-a-year role in June, just over a month after the new Labour administration took up the reins of power at city hall.

The scale of her payout angered both opposition councillors and residents, many of whom signed a petition against the use of public funds at a time when the council is making extensive budget cuts.

Her departure follows in the footsteps of her short-lived predecessors David Panter, Alan McCarthy and John Barradell, who all lasted less than five years.

Ms Thompson, who was previously head of the General Care Social Council and was awarded the CBE in 2012, was selected for the £150,000 post following a two-day interview process with councillors in October 2012.

Her payout was the second big public sector golden goodbye of her career, having received a £330,000 settlement from Hackney Borough Council in 2007 after stepping down after two-and-a-half years into the role.


The Argus:

Kieran Stigant, former chief executive at West Sussex County Council

KIERAN Stigant was praised for his “diligent and loyal” service of 22 years to the council when he stepped down from the post of chief executive in January 2014.

For that service he was paid well. Very well in fact.

His final payment package for 2013/14 totalled a healthy £396,143, which included his £251,291 annual salary, £119,488 pay-off and pension contributions of £25,364, making him one of the Britain’s most lavishly remunerated council bosses in the country.

Mr Stigant did not even have to hang around, leaving within weeks of the announcement rather than serving out the industry standard three months and receiving £88,000 in lieu of notice.

The handsome pay-off was unfortunate timing for the authority, which had announced plans for £141 million of cuts, in addition to £79 million of savings already made in three years previously, just weeks earlier.

Mr Stigant followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Mark Hammond, who was given a £250,000 pay-off after he was ousted from the role in 2010.

The council now operates without a chief executive with chief operating officer Gill Steward the highest paid on £197,209.

the highest-paid officer Gill Steward, who gets by on just £197,209 a year, as the authority’s chief operating officer.


The Argus:

Andrew Gardiner, former strategic director at Adur and Worthing councils.

ANDREW Gardiner is another senior council officer who went out with a bang in his final year of long service to a council.

He started working in local government in 1972 and joined Worthing Borough Council in 1979, steadily progressing all the way up to corporate director at Adur District Council in 2006 and was then part of the joint management team for Adur and Worthing in April 2008.

His reward for 42 years’ service in local government, including 35 in the Adur and Worthing area, was to receive £212,543 in his final year, which included a £100,265 pay-off as compensation for loss of office.

On leaving, he was commended by his boss Alex Bailey for his long service, another senior council officer not unfamiliar to a golden goodbye, having pocketed £125,000 from Brighton and Hove City Council after being ousted in a major reshuffle in 2010, only to return as Adur and Worthing’s chief executive three years later on £103,000-a-year.

Mr Bailey returned to a senior Sussex council post just three years later when he beat almost 40 other applicants for the £103,000-a-year chief executive role at Adur and Worthing.


The Argus:

David Murray, former strategic director of communities at Brighton and Hove City

Council DAVID Murray was part of a very expensive but and ultimately expensive failed project to overhaul how Brighton and Hove City Council operates.

He was brought in alongside three other high-flying public officials in October 2010 as part of a council £1 million restructure which cost £1 million and included a number of payouts to exiting senior staff to make way for the new team.

Payouts totalling £725,000 were received by departing top level managers, including the council’s former director for environment Jenny Rowlands, who left with £200,000 despite already resigning to take up her current role as chief executive at Lewes District Council chief executive.

In less than two years, however, it was time for Mr Murray and his fellow strategic directors to leave for council pastures new. Mr Murray received left with a payout of £125,000.

The only remaining strategic director from the failed experiment is Geoff Raw, who is now the chief executive who was named the council’s new chief executive in October.