Finance chief left with £141K pay-off
A top finance chief left South Kesteven District Council “in a hurry” with a pay-off of £141,000, it has emerged.
The revelation came during a lively debate at full council on Thursday, July 26, when it also emerged his successor was recruited without undergoing an ‘open’ recruitment process.
Deepings Independent councillor Ashley Baxter has claimed “at least” 10 senior council vacancies have been recruited this way, which led to his Deepings colleague Phil Dilks (Lab) to request a review of recruitment processes at the meeting.
Opposition councillors stressed they had no issue with the officers recruited - just how they were recruited.
Earlier, council leader Matthew Lee (Con) welcomed the council’s appointment of Debbie Muddimer as chief finance officer on a permanent basis from July 26.
Mrs Muddimer had previously been recruited to the same role on an interim basis on November 23 last year, when the outgoing finance officer is believed to have left, and she was also appointed director of resources on June 4, 2018.
Until joining the council, she had previously held top jobs at Rutland County Council.
Coun Lee said: “She decided this was a wonderful place to work.”
Deputy leader Kelham Cooke (Con) said: “She’s really hit the ground running.”
Coun Dilks also praised the new officer but said he had earlier raised concerns about making her appointment full time.
He said: “It has nothing to do with the person, but purely about the way the council is appointing its senior officers.
“Democracy has to be done and has to be seen to be done. What would other people think of this and other appointments - there was no advert, the job was not advertised, there was no interview.”
Coun Baxter said: “This appointment followed the demise of a previous finance officer who left in a hurry and was allegedly paid more than £100,000 in the process of leaving. The new one was appointed in a hurry. We realised we had made a mistake. There was no advertising. No respect to our own recruitment processes.”
SKDC chief executive Aidan Rave told the meeting that the £141,000 paid to the outgoing officer was “part of a settlement agreement”.
Coun Lee said he moved the appointment of Mrs Muddimer at employment committee on advice from chief executive Aidan Rave.
“If the opposition had asked us to advertise, we would have. We do have two jobs for senior officers, they will go out for adverts.”
Ruling Conservatives voted to support the appointment of Mrs Muddimer, with opposition councillors either abstaining or voting against.
Coun Lee said he created an appointments panel, which includes opposition leaders, to achieve that, and unhappy opposition councillors should look to their leader.
He concluded: “This council is going places and needs the best staff to get us there. We will have the best team of officers. We have to be pragmatic about how the officers come here.”
Since the meeting Aidan Rave defended the council’s recruitment procedures and the £141,000 pay-off.
Mr Rave told the Mercury the processes were legal under local government and equalities legislation, that he was “completely comfortable” they were within council guidelines and that ‘headhunting’ allowed the council to seek the best staff.
Interim or temporary appointments also gave the chance to know a person and their work record and delivered a lower risk of making a bad employment decision than a one-hour interview.
Mr Rave, who joined the council last year, said in 2018 SKDC has taken on 80 people, around ten of which were “outside normal practices” of advertising and getting CVs.
The three appointments that had “sparked debate” were Mrs Muddimer, deputy chief officer Jane McDaid and director of growth, Paul Thomas, and Mr Rave said they were “outstandingly good officers” who already worked for the council.
He said this was better as their work had already been judged and was more effective than judging people on a one hour interview.
He said it would be unfair to applicants to have an open recruitment process if it was highly likely these three would have got the job. Furthermore, £50,000 or so in advertising costs were also saved.
Councillors still finalised employment decisions but Mr Rave added: “If you asked me to do it again tomorrow, I would do the same thing.”
InvestSK roles are “headhunted” in the same way as they are fixed-term contracts of a year and specialist roles focusing on economy, culture and tourism; although the appointments were still interviewed with a council chief officer.
Mr Rave said: “They are not the sort of jobs to put out a general advert and get a response of 50. Because they are specialist in nature, we identify individuals and negotiate with them.”
Mr Rave explained: “It is headhunting. We have set out our stall clearly and ambitiously. It [recruitment] is loaded with risk so we have to get the best people. We will continue to do that because it’s the right thing for the council and the people of the district.”
With regards the departing finance officer and the pay-off Mr Rave said he was bound by a confidentiality agreement.
But he added: “There have been a series of changes at senior level, in most cases by mutual agreement. We have saved something like £250,000 from the senior officer restructure. So a one-off payment has to be judged against the longer term savings.”