'Golden handshakes' have cost Central Bedfordshire Council more than £240k in four years

Senior officer received more than £83k despite only being employed by the council for six years
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A senior officer received an £83,556 golden handshake, despite only being with Central Bedfordshire Council for six years, according to a local councillor.

Jason Longhurst was employed by CBC as director of regeneration and business on an annual salary of £126,096 and was responsible for its Local Plan at one stage.

In a social media posting, Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny said: "The council has admitted that Mr Longhurst was paid £83,556 compensation for loss of office.

Central Beds Council's Chicksands headquartersCentral Beds Council's Chicksands headquarters
Central Beds Council's Chicksands headquarters

"This pay-off amounts to two thirds of his annual salary, even though he'd only been with the council for six years."

Such payments are referred to as non-disclosure agreements or NDAs.

Councillor Zerny was told by CBC, during the last four years, there were "18 legally binding settlement agreements/COT3s for the council, which include a limited confidentiality clause".

The council said 14 of these 18 related to council officers, as opposed to employees of schools, while the total cost of them was more than £240,000.

Councillor Zerny explained: "That's 14 occasions in just four years where the council has made a secret agreement with departing staff, the details of which it won't even discuss with elected councillors.

"A legally binding settlement agreement is usually an agreement to settle a dispute or provide a release or waiver of a claim(s).

"In employment conditions it can include terms in which an employee agrees not to pursue a claim against an employer.

"A COT3 is basically an agreement between an employer and employee settling an actual or potential tribunal claim usually with the assistance of a conciliation officer employed by ACAS."

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokeswoman said: "Council finances are published and available for transparency purposes.

"The council is required to comply with data protection legislation which means we are unable to disclose personal information about employees or former employees and the terms of an individual’s departure.

"Redundancy payments take into account continuity of service working across different local authorities and some other public sector organisations, not just the time with the last employer."

Mr Longhurst left the local authority in April 2020 "to pursue his interests in the sustainable growth agenda", according to CBC around that time.

"This will primarily be in his on-going position as chairman of UK Business Council for Sustainable Development," the council said in a statement.

"It's a private-sector led organisation that champions the environmental economic benefits of sustainable development."

Councillor Zerny asked at a recent full council meeting whether departing director of children's services Sue Harrison would receive a financial farewell.

He was told by the Conservative deputy council leader Sue Clark, who's also the executive member for families, education and children, to write to the chief executive Marcel Coiffait and request a written response.

Ms Harrison is to become executive director for education and skills at Birmingham City Council later this year, and leaves CBC at the end of October.

SOURCE: Central Bedfordshire Council councillor's social media posting, response from CBC communications and archive material.