Ex-CEO’s departure cost council £370K

Ex-Northumberland County Council CEO Steve Mason.
Ex-Northumberland County Council CEO Steve Mason.

The departure of Northumberland County Council’s previous chief executive cost the authority £370,000.

And the council’s draft accounts for the 2017-18 financial year also reveal that the costs related to the cancelled relocation of its headquarters to Ashington was £5.5million.

Steve Mason, the previous chief executive, left in the wake of last year’s elections when the Tories seized power at County Hall, saying it was ‘an appropriate time for new managerial leadership at a time when the political leadership has changed with a radically different agenda’.

The accounts now show that compensation for his loss of office, including ‘legal fees paid by the council in connection with the termination of the officer’s employment’, was £369,999.

Combined with the salary of £31,378 he received prior to his departure, benefits of £6,310 and pension contributions of £5,805, the total outlay by the council in relation to Mr Mason was £413,492 last year.

A council spokeswoman said: “We don’t comment on the circumstances of individual members of staff. However, we are transparent about the salary and redundancy payments to senior managers, which are published as a matter of course in the annual statement of accounts.”

Elsewhere in the accounts, there are two examples of ‘significant charges’ with the first being the £2.55million used to fill the black hole in Active Northumberland’s 2017-18 accounts in the wake of a scathing review about how it had been run, as agreed at the full council meeting in May.

The second relates to the aborted move from County Hall in Morpeth to a new office at Portland Park, Ashington, with the ‘overall impact’ being £5.53 million.

The authority previously said it had agreed a settlement of £1.4million with the contractor for the cancelled HQ, but a council spokeswoman explained that the £5.5million figure includes design work and ongoing plot development.

She said: “This overall figure comprises of £2.1million which covers all the design works before tender, the £1.4million cost of cancelling the contract and a further £2.1million on ongoing plot development works which we hope can be used by any new developer of the site.

“The work undertaken by Arch and their consultants during the design and procurement stage for the building was part of the previous administration’s capital budget and this spending is not something the current council did or would have sanctioned.

“We are continuing to progress a number of options for the Portland Park site which will not just benefit Ashington, but the whole county.”

But a spokesman for the opposition Labour group said that these examples as well as an increase in senior pay, including ‘creating an international department with a highly-paid executive’, show how ‘after only one year, the full extent of Tory mismanagement is becoming clear’.

The council spokewoman added: “The council is completely transparent about executive pay. A number of senior posts within the council are shared posts, where the council only pays a proportion of the salary costs.

“The director of international projects and system transformation is one of those posts – where Northumberland County Council only pays a proportion of the salary.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service