Here is my letter to Glasgow City Council regarding the chief executive's decision to make a parting gift of £120,079 to the council's outgoing director of finance, so that this fellow senior official could access her pension early.
I have written to Scotland's public spending watchdog, Audit Scotland, asking that the circumstances surrounding this payment be investigated as a matter of urgency, as well as the absence of proper records to explain how the council's chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell, justified her decision and this extraordinary use of public money.
I suppose you could say that when it comes to looking after the interests of its most senior council officials, Glasgow really is No 'Mean' City.
11 July 2018
Dear Ms Forrest
Glasgow City Council - Vital Records Policy
I refer to your letter dated 21 June 2018 in which you confirmed that Glasgow's chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell, made the decision to 'gift' the sum of £120,079 to the City Council's finance director, Lynn Brown, so that Ms Brown could access her local government pension early.
Your response to my FOI request failed to explain the basis on which this decision was made by the chief executive and your letter went on to state that the Council does not hold any information to clarify how the City Council approved the expenditure (e.g. via a council committee) of such a large sum of public money.
In my view, it is inconceivable that Scotland's largest council can have no audit trail to explain the process by which this decision was reached and how the money involved was released to the Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF).
As a result, I have now raised my concerns with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) and, in doing so, I have drawn the Commissioner's attention to Glasgow City Council's Vital Records Policy which states, inter alia:
"The Council is committed to ensuring that all Vital Records, regardless of their format, are identified, managed appropriately and that appropriate business continuity and backup measures are put in place in order to protect critical information relating to the Council, its critical functions and its reputation"
"This policy was approved by the Information Advisory Board and has been issued as a binding Procedural Rule by the Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council, in terms of the Council's scheme of delegated functions"
As a Glasgow citizen and council tax payer, I am minded to raise a formal complaint with the relevant authorities about the probity and governance issues surrounding this payment, as I believe the absence of proper records may constitute a serious breach of the City Council's Vital Records Policy.
What I don't understand is how this could have happened when the decision involved the council's most senior official (Annemarie O'Donnell), its director of finance and the principal adviser to the Strathclyde Pension Fund (Lynn Brown), as well as a binding Procedural Rule laid down by the Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council (Carole Forrest).
Can I ask, therefore, if you have already taken steps to alert the Council's internal and external auditors to the absence of information which explains how Annemarie O'Donnell arrived at her decision, and how the Council approved significant expenditure which amounted to a 'gift' of £120,079 to one of its most senior officials?
I look forward to your reply which I hope will be speedy, given the circumstances, and would be grateful if you could respond to me by email at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council
Carole Forrest LLB DipLP
Glasgow City Council
City Chambers George Square Glasgow G2 1DU
Hand Deliveries to: 40 John Street Glasgow G1 1JL
Our Ref: 6619148 Your Ref:
Dear Mr Irvine
REQUEST FOR REVIEW UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (SCOTLAND) ACT 2002
I refer to your email of 22.05.18 which I am treating as a formal request for review of Glasgow City Council’s (“the Council”) failure to respond to your initial request for information dated 20.04.18.
On behalf of the Council, I apologise that you did not receive a response to your initial request for information. You should have received a response within the 20 working day timescales set out in the legislation and I apologise that on this occasion you did not.
You requested the following information:
“1) Please provide me the name and job title of the Council official who recommended that Glasgow City Council should pay £120,079 to compensate the Local Government Pension Scheme for allowing the Council's former executive Director of Finance, Lynn Brown, to access her pension benefits early?
2) Please provide me with the written explanation for this recommendation and the process by which the expenditure of this large sum of public money approved?
3) Please confirm how long the former Executive Director of Finance would otherwise have had to wait to access her pension benefits, if it were not for this generous use of public funds?”
THE REVIEW DECISION
I can confirm that the Council is treating your request for this information under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOI).
The responses to the information requested are as follows:
1) Annemarie O'Donnell, Chief Executive
2) On inspecting our records, it would appear that Glasgow City Council does not hold the information which you have requested. Neither does anyone else hold it on our behalf. Therefore this information would be exempt under Section 17 of the Act. Accordingly we are unable to comply with your request.
3) We are unable to provide you with the details of how long the former ExecutiveDirector of Finance would otherwise have had to wait before being able to access her pension benefits. This information is, in our opinion, exempt from a request under Part 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 because of the exemption contained in section 38(1)(b) of the Act. In other words, in our opinion disclosure of the information would contravene any of the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the GDPR. If we provided you with this information, it may be possible to identify Lynn Brown’s age and therefore, we will not disclose this information. By way of assistance, all Council employees can ask to take early retirement from the age of 55.
Please note that the information provided in response to your request is, unless otherwise indicated, copyright © Glasgow City Council 2018. It is supplied to you in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Any further use by you of this information must comply with the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as amended and/or the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997. In particular, any commercial use or re-use of the information provided requires the prior written consent of the Council.
If you require further clarification please e-mail me at FOIreviews@glasgow.gov.uk and I will ensure that the matter is reviewed.
RIGHT OF APPEAL
I hope you are satisfied with this response. However, if you are not you have the right to make an application within six months of receipt of this letter for a decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
The Scottish Information Commissioner can be contacted as follows:
Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews, KY16 9DS.
You can also use the Scottish Information Commissioner’s online appeal service to make an
application for a decision: www.itspublicknowledge.info/appealThereafter a decision by Scottish Information Commissioner may be appealed on a point of law to the Court of Session.
DIRECTOR OF GOVERNANCE AND SOLICITOR TO THE COUNCIL
DIRECTOR OF GOVERNANCE AND SOLICITOR TO THE COUNCIL