Friday 19th October 2018,
North Yorks Enquirer

Where Did You Find The Money, Mark?

September 23, 2014 Letters

A Letter to the Editor from Ian WATKINS of Bedale, in the District of Hambleton, who writes regarding his own investigations into the Hambleton District Council Senior Officers’ extraordinarily large salary increases.

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Dear Mr Editor,

I thought your Readers might be interested in following my attempts to find out what process is in place for allowing such large pay rises to be paid to senior managers and the Chief Executive Officer, Phillip Morton at Hambleton District Council (HDC).

How can such large pay rises be granted and who is responsible for granting them?

So the first port of call was the HDC Pay Policy. I read this document. On Page 2, Line 16, it clearly states the following:

  • ‘The Chief Executive’s salary is negotiated with the Leader of the Council’.

This seemed easy to understand and I knew that the HDC Pay Policy had been agreed by Full Council; therefore my next port of call was to write to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Mark Robson, who would have negotiated with the Chief Executive Officer over his pay rise, as clearly outlined in the HDC Pay Policy. I had prepared a number of Statements which I believe to be true and I wanted to give the Leader of the Council full opportunity to verify them or explain why they may be untrue before I’d publish these details on my Blog.

I sent this email:

“Dear Councillor Robson,

The Chief Executive Officer, Phillip Morton, of Hambleton District Council (HDC) has recently received a pay rise of £24,033 (HDC website) from the public purse.  This matter was also covered in an article in the Northern Echo.  I have provided the link to the article for your ease of reference:

http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/local/northyorkshire/11365787.Council_boss_gets___25_000_pay_rise_while_lowest_paid_offered_two_per_cent/?action=complain&cid=12991786

As the Leader of Hambleton District Council would you be kind enough to respond to the following points I have outlined below as I am currently researching for an article for publication on the internet.

With reference to the recently agreed HDC Pay Policy, further detail on the HDC website and newspaper articles surrounding this matter.

The following assumptions I can accept to be true:

  1. The Leader of the Council Hambleton District Council] takes full responsibility alone for awarding and signing off pay increases to the Chief Executive Officer of Hambleton District Council.
  2. There is no material or documentary evidence available that justifies/supports the Leader’s recent decision to award this pay increase to the Chief Executive Officer of Hambleton District Council.
  3. Hambleton District Council are acting outside of the Government Policy on Pay Restraint within the Public Sector following the award of this pay increase to Phillip Morton.
  4. The Independent Review Process has been removed from the HDC Pay Policy for independently reviewing salary increases for HDC Senior Officer’s salaries.

I appreciate how busy you are and thank you for taking the time to read this email but as I am sure you’ll agree it is vital that the information is correct and any comments from you would be very useful.

Kind Regards,”

I then received a response from Councillor Robson’s PA.  To each of my 4 Statements I was given the following responses:

  • 1. The Leader of the Council takes full responsibility alone for awarding and signing off pay increases to the Chief Executive Officer of Hambleton District Council.

Councillor Robson: “It is a legal requirement that full Council determines the pay policy.”

  • 2. There is no material or documentary evidence available that justifies/supports the Leader’s recent decision to award this pay increase to the Chief Executive Officer of Hambleton District Council.

Councillor Robson: “Pay levels are a matter for Council to determine.”

  • 3. Hambleton District Council are acting outside of the Government Policy on Pay Restraint within the Public Sector following the award of this pay increase to Phillip Morton.

Councillor Robson: “The Council is not bound by the Government Policy regarding its own workforce and key Civil Servants.  It is interesting to note that a post within the House of Commons is currently being advertised on a salary of £200,000pa.”

  • 4. The Independent Review Process has been removed from the HDC Pay Policy for independently reviewing salary increases to HDC Senior Officer’s salaries.

Councillor Robson: “It has always been the decision of Members regarding the pay of all senior officers. It is the legal responsibility of full Council to approve the pay of the Council’s senior officers. It has always been the case that pay is set by Members and whilst independent pay reviews have been occasionally used in the past Members have always made the final decision.”

I was confused by these responses from Councillor Robson so I wrote back for further clarification, particularly regarding his comments on the Pay Policy that had been agreed by Full Council and now the Leader seemed to be going round and round in circles:

“Dear Councillor Robson,

Thank you for the response.  I am somewhat perplexed by your reply as I have read the HDC Pay Policy Statement and I still maintain that my assessments [numbered 1 to 4 below] are correct.  I accept that full Council have a number of legal responsibilities to fulfil, nevertheless could you please state whether these statements are true or not?

  1. The Leader of the Council takes full responsibility alone for awarding and signing off pay increases to the Chief Executive Officer of Hambleton District Council.
  2. There is no material or documentary evidence available that justifies/supports the Leader’s recent decision to award this pay increase to the Chief Executive Officer of Hambleton District Council.
  3. Hambleton District Council are acting outside of the Government Policy on Pay Restraint within the Public Sector following the award of this pay increase to Phillip Morton.
  4. The Independent Review Process has been removed from the HDC Pay Policy for independently reviewing salary increases to HDC Senior Officer’s salaries.

All I am trying to establish is a clear understanding of the pay award mechanism/process for senior management within HDC.  If the HDC Pay Policy is not very clear in its intent, please clarify.  In the absence of any further reply from you I will consider these facts to be true and I’ll be free to publish.

Kind Regards,”

I then got this reply from Councillor Robson:

“Mr. Watkins

I have made my position clear and do not intend to enter into further correspondence on this matter. I would also like to make clear that your statements are not true and to publish them would simply serve to mislead your readers.

Mark S Robson

Leader

Hambleton District Council”

I decided to write back to the Leader of my local Council and I attached to the email two documents I’d downloaded from the HDC website, the Pay Policy 2012 and the Pay Policy 2014:

“Dear Councillor Robson,

  1. You have stated that Statement 1 is ‘not true’.  Pay Policy 2014 [attached] Page 2, Line 16 states:  ‘The Chief Executive’s salary is negotiated with the Leader of the Council’.  HDC Full Council have agreed the Pay Policy and following that Full Council meeting you negotiated the CEO’s salary as per the agreed Pay Policy.  The CEO gets a massive pay rise following your negotiations with him.
  2. You have stated that Statement 2 below is ‘not true’.  Therefore could you please provide the material or documentary evidence that is available that you used to justify and support your decision to award this pay increase to the Chief Executive Officer of Hambleton District Council?
  3. You stated that Statement 3 is not true.  Hambleton District Council does act outside of the Government Policy on Pay Restraint within the Public Sector following the award of this pay increase to Phillip Morton who earns over £100,000.
  4. You will find attached two pay policies taken from your website at HDC.  Statement 4 must be true because one Pay Policy 2012 has reference to an ‘independent review for salary increases to HDC Senior Officer’s salaries and the 2014 Pay Policy does not.  The independent review element has clearly been removed from the 2014 document.  You have stated that it is ‘not true’.

I sincerely believe that our local councillors and public authorities should be open, transparent and accountable.  You have stated that I would mislead my readers – please can you respond so that there is no room whatsoever for misleading anybody, especially the tax-paying public on this matter?

Regards,”

So where does this leave us?

Unfortunately, none the wiser as to how an employee of our local Council received a pay rise of almost £25,000 at our expense. Where is the transparency? Where is the openness? Where is the accountability? What is the process in place for granting such enormous pay rises? If there was a straightforward and honest answer available I am certain that I would have received it by now.

My concern is that it appears that there are no honest and straightforward answers to these questions.

It would appear that £24,033 of public money is unaccounted for and there appears to be no explanation whatsoever from our locally elected representatives
Regards, etc.

Ian

Ian WATKINS, Bedale. 22nd September 2014.

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