Communities secretary Robert Jenrick personally intervened to strengthen the Government’s proposed crackdown on councils’ use of exit payments, The MJ has learned.
An internal email from Mr Jenrick’s assistant private secretary revealed he thought the statutory guidance on special severance payments as it was originally drafted by officials was ‘not strong enough’.
The email read: ‘SoS [secretary of state] has commented that, as drafted, it does not reflect government policy and implies a degree of tolerance of excessive exit payments; it needs to make clear that this [sic] are not merely ‘uncommon’ but truly exceptional, requiring the highest bar to be evidenced.’
It added that Mr Jenrick thought any exit payments should in future be ‘personally approved’ by the chief executive, with the ‘full knowledge’ of the leader.
Revised guidance - which outlines the Government’s view that special severance payments ‘do not usually represent value for money and should only be considered in truly exceptional circumstances’ - will now be publicly consulted on for six weeks.
The guidance stresses that payments should not be used to ‘avoid management action, disciplinary processes, unwelcome publicity or avoidance of embarrassment’.
It also suggested councils should not be put off defending a legal claim even if it might cost them more than a settlement, adding: ‘They [those approving a payment] should bear in mind that even if the cost of defeating an apparently frivolous or vexatious claim will exceed the likely cost of that settlement to the employers it may still be desirable to take the case to formal proceedings.
'This is because winning such cases will discourage future frivolous or vexatious claims and demonstrate that the council does not reward such claims.’
Ian Miller, honorary secretary of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives trade union, said council staff should not be ‘treated differently or adversely’ compared to those working for government departments.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: 'The Government is determined to crack down on excessive exit payments in local government which take taxpayers' money away from delivering public services.
'These proposals are currently out for consultation.'