Here's a reminder that Glasgow really is no 'mean' city when it comes to some of the council's senior officials.
As I said yesterday, can anyone imagine the Council showing the same level of generosity towards Glasgow's low paid carers, cooks, cleaners, catering workers or classroom assistants? Of course not. I queried the Glasgow's decision at the time with Audit Scotland, but this public spending 'watchdog' (as usual in my experience) had little interest in asking the Council to justify this extraordinary use of public money.
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.
If you require further clarification please e-mail me at FOIreviews@glasgow.gov.ukand 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.
Here's a link to the Evening Times article on the parting 'gift' of £120,079 to a very senior council official so that she could access her pension early. Now every council employee reaching 55 years of age has the right to request early retirement, but each application has to be considered on its merits and there is certainly no entitlement for a person to have their pension 'topped up' in the way that appears to have happened here. The fact that this request involved the council's chief executive (Annemarie O'Donnell) and former finance director (Lynn Brown) demands even greater scrutinythan normal if you ask me, yet so far at least the council has been unable or unwilling to explain exactly what happened. So I hope that the Scottish Information Commissioner and Audit Scotland will help shine a light on things and persuade the council to explain the basis of this extraordinary £120,079 payment.
EQUAL pay campaigner Mark Irvine is demanding answers from council bosses over a £120,000 payment made after the early retiral of a senior official.
Glasgow City Council's well respected finance director Lynn Brown was granted early retiral in 2016 after 13 years in post.
In order to allow her to go, the council paid a lump sum of £120,079 to Strathclyde Pension Fund, which would have been approved by chief executive Annmarie O'Donnell.
But, following a request made under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, the council has failed to provide the paper trail for sanctioning the payment.
Mr Irvine is the solicitor behind the Action 4 Equality Scotland campaign to secure equal pay compensation for thousands of low paid female workers.
He said: "Glasgow's chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell, is the highest paid local government official in Scotland, but this latest debacle makes the city look completely ridiculous - small businesses and local corner shops in Glasgow operate to higher standards.
"The generosity shown towards a senior council colleague is quite extraordinary and impossible to justify.
"Low paid workers in other parts of the council don't enjoy this kind of treatment and it's a terrible insult to those who have been fighting for their rights to equal pay for the past 12 years."
Dead Sheep and Equal Pay (22/04/20)
Whatever else you can say about Audit Scotland, this particular public spending watchdog has been virtually irrelevant during the fight for equal pay in Scottish 32 local councils which has been raging since 2005 when A4ES appeared on the scene. The Accounts Commission, on the other hand, did publish a damning report in September 2017 which concluded that a "decade long failure of leadership by local and central government" was responsible for the continuing debacle over equal pay in Scotland's councils. More to follow soon because I will re-post the Accounts Commission report when I get a minute, hopefully later today.
Dead Sheep and Equal Pay (28/02/17)
I said in a recent post that I had previously compared Scotland's public spending watchdog (Audit Scotland) to being savaged by a 'dead sheep'. Well there have been plenty of spending scandals in Scotland's councils over the past 15 years, but I have not witnessed Audit Scotland laying a glove on any of the culprits involved.
If you ask me, the biggest scandals all is that council budgets in Scotland virtually doubled in the ten year period between 1997 and 2007, yet still the council employers failed to deliver equal pay for work of equal value.
Glasgow's Fight for Equal Pay (22/04/20)
The Evening Times reports that Glasgow City Council is to vote on a report marking the conclusion of its long-running equal pay dispute which goes all the way back to 2005. At the same time the report acknowledges the Council has still to replace its 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme which helped cause all this trouble in the first place. So this doesn't sound like much of a conclusion to me, especially as the WPBR won't be replaced for some time to come.
Apparently, this flurry of activity has been prompted by dusting down an Audit Scotland report from February 2020 which doesn't have a word to say about the Glasgow claimants, their long fight with successive Council administrations - or the fact that the claimants had to go on strike (in October 2018) to force the Council into facing up to its obligations on equal pay.
I can't say I'm surprised because the reality is that Audit Scotland (a public spending watchdog would you believe) has been 'missing in action' over the past 15 years while the fight for equal pay has been raging in Scotland's 32 local councils.
Audit Scotland had nothing to say about the 'bonus culture' in Scotland's councils back in 2005, for example, which meant that traditional male council jobs were paid much higher than female dominated jobs.
Audit Scotland had nothing to say about the 'unfit for purpose' WPBR which the Council introduced in 2007 even though this scheme was designed to maintain all the old pay differences between male and female council jobs.
Audit Scotland had nothing to say during the 10 year court battlewith the Labour-run councilwhich resulted in the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, condemning the WPBR as 'unfit for purpose' in August 2017.
And Audit Scotland had nothing to say about Glasgow's new SNP-led council trying to overturn this landmark 'unfit for purpose' WPBR judgment which resulted in the council losing its appeal in another unanimous judgment from the Court of Session in December 2017.
Now politicians, of all stripes, are quick to pat themselves on the back but the truth is that thousands of low paid workers fought successive council administrations to win this battle - and will do so again, if the need arises.
No one, but no one handed Glasgow's equal pay claimants anything on a plate.
Glasgow City councillors to vote on report to conclude decade-long equal pay dispute
By Catherine Hunter - Glasgow Times
GLASGOW councillors are expected to agree a report from Audit Scotland concluding the equal pay dispute which spanned more than a decade.
A document which is being presented to the city administration committee on Thursday, via teleconference, completes the settlement and acknowledges the council’s ongoing commitment to implement a new pay and grading structure.
Findings from the statutory report, which was circulated to all councilmembers on January 3 and scrutinised shortly after, were published on Audit Scotland’s website on February 6.
A report of this nature would normally be presented at the next full council meeting, but with the country in lockdown, it was decided the findings would be submitted to the city administration committee for approval.
The Accounts Commission report states: “We are therefore pleased to commend the council on the Controller’s conclusion that it has successfully delivered a challenging and complicated project within a relatively short period of time.
“We welcome the effective governance arrangements that the council put in place to oversee the project, alongside appropriate controls to the calculation and payment of settlements.”
The report also recognises the ongoing effort to help those not covered in this agreement and accepts that further claims may arise.
A council spokesman said: “This was one of the biggest projects of its kind ever undertaken by a local authority – delivered against an extremely challenging timescale.
“We’re obviously pleased that the commission has recognised this and endorsed the governance arrangements put in place by the council.
“At all times, our priority has been to get the right result for claimants, the rest of our workforce and the hundreds of thousands of Glaswegians who depend upon the services the council provides.”