In December 2008, long before Don’t Call Me Dave retired from blogging, Barnet Council did something quite remarkable. They sacked an officer - Mike Freestone - for his incompetence in the Aerodrome Road Bridge project which ran £11 million over budget.
A few days after this momentous event, DCMD received an anonymous brown envelope with details of a reported £250,000 payoff for the hapless Mr Freestone. If true, this would represent an astonishing reward for failure.
According to the figures, he allegedly received:
- £61,000 severance payment
- £75,000 in lieu of notice and holidays
- £106,000 lump sum pension
- £36,700 annual pension
DCMD does not know if these figures are genuine or whether he was sent them by someone trying to cause trouble. A spokesman for the council refused to confirm or deny whether the figures were accurate, citing sections 40(5) and 41(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which exempts certain categories of personal and confidential information from publication.
However, the Information Commissioner’s Guidance Notes relating to exemptions states:
“It may also be relevant to think about the seniority of staff: the more senior a person is the less likely it will be that to disclose information about him or her acting in an official capacity would be unfair.”In a case three years ago, the Commissioner added:
“The Commissioner recognises that there may be circumstances where it would be legitimate to release information of this nature relating to the unexpected retirement of a senior official at a public authority.”Despite this, the Information Commissioner has now decided that Barnet Council does not have to confirm or deny whether Mr Freestone received this payoff, or indeed any payoff. In a similar ruling, the Commissioner also stated that the council does not have to reveal how much former Chief Financial Officer Clive Medlam received, if anything, when he walked the plank.
Readers will recall that Mr Medlam was the officer who borrowed millions of Pounds from the Public Works Loan Board for the schools rebuilding programme and then deposited the money in Iceland at a higher rate of interest. Money that the taxpayer is unlikely to ever see again.
The Commissioner argues that to disclose the details of any payoffs made to these officers would infringe their right to privacy under the Data Protection Act. DCMD believes that the public’s right to know how much is being paid to senior council officers who are sacked because of work related issues should take precedence.
DCMD can appeal the Information Commissioner’s decision, but he does not believe that it is worth the time or effort. He has never yet met a government body which reviewed its own decision and then changed its mind.
Like Barnet’s greedy councillors, our Chief Officers seemingly treat residents as their personal cash machines. We exist for no other reason than to stuff their faces with our hard earned money. But whereas councillors are grudgingly obliged to tell us how much they cost us, officers do not have to reveal the size of their trough and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.