05:00PM, Sunday 15 October 2017
Whistle-blowing, tax avoidance and gagging clauses were the subject of fierce debate between councillors and council officers on Wednesday evening.
At Slough Borough Council’s audit and corporate governance committee the council revealed more than £3million had been paid in redundancy and settlement payments to former employees over the past four years.
Interim monitoring officer Linda Walker began by revealing the outcome of four whistle-blowing complaints in the past year. No evidence was found in three cases and the other was considered as part of the council’s grievance procedure.
Cllr James Swindlehurst (Lab, Cippenham Green) was unhappy that councillors are not able to see the issues raised by whistle-blowers.
The suitability of the current complaints process was also questioned as one complaint had been passed to the person the complaint had been about. Councillors challenged the council’s independence in the investigations.
Cllr Ted Plenty (Lab, Langley St Marys) questioned Mrs Walker about a complaint naming her that was investigated by her deputy.
He said: “How can an investigation handled by your deputy be considered external when you have business associations with him?”
Mrs Walker denied there was any conflict of interest.
Cllr Plenty apologised if the allegation was untrue but said the issue of independence needed to be much clearer.
“I don’t think anyone has faith in coming forward,” added Cllr Swindlehurst.
On settlement agreements councillors were concerned that they were not informed why ‘gagging’ agreements were used, making it hard to learn from mistakes and leaving employee departures open to rumour.
While officers debated the use of the word ‘gagging’ Cllr Swindlehurst said that he had seen the results of an FOI request made by Cllr Plenty about the use of such clauses in settlement cases and that regardless of semantics it amounted to an attempt to prevent that person from discussing their reasons for departure.
He added: “That’s the worrying thing, we get no answers, it’s Kafka, it’s going around in a surrealist fantasy.”
Later Cllr Wayne Strutton (Con, Haymill and Lynch Hill) asked for assurances that settlement payments were not being paid in such a way that would assist in tax avoidance.
He was assured by council officers that the council’s accounting practices relating to settlements were all legal.
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