Reporter uses FoI to expose cost of council staff pay-offs

By Sarah Lagan

The Norwich Evening
News has used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal how Norfolk
councils have spent up to £8m getting rid of staff.

Among the costs were £1.3m stumped up by Norfolk County Council over
the past five years for the provision of early retirement for staff,
including a £63,000 settlement for a cultural services department staff
member. Over the past five years the council paid out £5m to reimburse
the Norfolk Pension Fund after the departure of 123 members of staff.

It
also emerged that Norwich City Council coughed up around £250,000 in
redundancy packages for experienced housing officers and advertising
costs for jobs in the same department, while Broadland District Council
spent £105,597 to help with the departure of just two members of staff.

The revelations came as Norfolk County Council said it was to make significant budgets cuts.

Reporter
Lewis Hannam launched an investigation into the spending after
discovering a particularly high turnover of council staff. He used the
FoI Act to make a request for information about how much taxpayers’
money was being spent on redundancy and early retirement payments.

Hannam
said: “This information normally appears below the line of the council
agenda. The pension payouts are particularly interesting because we
weren’t aware that such a huge amount of money was being paid out to
such a small amount of people.

“It will be interesting to see what other councils across the country are paying.”

When
approached by Hannam, the councils said their hands were tied by
Government guidelines that stipulate these payments be made by law.

Redundancy
packages are linked to levels of pay and multiplied by the length of
service. If they are aged over 50, a council worker is entitled to
their full pension if their position is made redundant. Councils then
have to make up the difference on any lost contributions to the Norfolk
Pension Fund.

Leader of the county council Alison King told the
Evening News: “There are big initial costs with these payments, but
there are long-term savings. I’m not in favour of early retirements,
and we have worked hard to bring down those numbers in recent years.
But there is no point in retaining staff when their job has become
redundant.”

However, the leader of the Tory-led county council’s
opposition Labour Group, Peter Harwood, told the paper he was
“extremely concerned” at some of the figures.

He said: “We have a
duty as members to look into some of these to see whether the savings
are successfully achieved. We don’t want a situation where we are
paying people not to work.”

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