Comment: Questions over council chief executive’s departure still demand full and frank answers

West Sussex County Council
West Sussex County Council

Last week we reported that the former chief executive of West Sussex County Council Nathan Elvery had allegedly been paid £265,000 of tax payers’ money after he left his post ‘by mutual consent’.

We say ‘allegedly’ because this is as yet an unsubstantiated leaked figure.

As the local newspaper, we, the BBC and readers have made numerous Freedom of Information requests around the reasons for Mr Elvery’s departure. None has been satisfactorily answered.

We will not know a definitive figure including any pension contributions until the council’s annual statement is published in May.

In the meantime, many residents are outraged that their hard-earned council taxes are being squandered in this way – when they should be spent on repairing the endless potholes, improving the pitiful children’s services, or generally supporting the most vulnerable in society.

That West Sussex County Council seems to be doing everything in its power to dodge legitimate public scrutiny – including getting all members to agree in writing to non-disclosure of the payment to the chief executive – is both outrageous and obscene.

A whole series of questions demand full and frank answers.

These include:

• Why did Mr Elvery leave his post?

• Why did the council, after spending a reported £35,000 on lawyers fees, pay him such a substantial sum of money?

• Who was responsible for the collapse of children’s services highlighted in recent damning reports?

• Why has there been a succession of high level departures from the authority and at what if any cost to the public purse?

• What is driving a culture of alleged bullying in the authority?

These are issues which have attracted national media attention not least in the highly respected Private Eye which singled out this newspaper and its sister titles for as one of those bodies making freedom of information requests.

And only last week, The Times ran a major story headlined: “£265,000 exit pay for chief executive of failing council.”

Make no mistake – West Sussex County Council is failing. It is a public disgrace. We say that as a newspaper which has historically supported its central role in our community.

But the time for pussy footing around on the subject is over.

The new leader Paul Marshall and the even newer chief executive – shared with East Sussex County Council Becky Shaw need to show real leadership and provide both answers to these pressing questions as well as showing how they are going to effectively turn the situation around.

This must include a cast iron guarantee that never again will an officer of the council be given such a fast exit payment.