The Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) every year publishes what it calls the Town Hall Rich List, whereby, through the process of sending Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to each and every council in the country, it compiles a list of all town hall employees who receive more than £100,000 a year. The latest edition of their report, detailing town hall salaries for the period 2008-09 (when Derrick Jones was still MD of IOACC) has the following entry for Anglesey County Council:
click to enlarge
Yes - that's right: the IOACC was one of only 10 out of 430 UK councils which refused to reply to the Taxpayers Alliance FoI request. In a write-up of the affair in the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail last month, a IOACC spokesman said that they had disclosed the salary of Derrick Jones to the TPA but not details of his severance package (thought to be in the region of £180,000) as this was covered by confidentiality. If so, why has the TPA not published the salary details? Indeed the TPA claims to have still not heard back from Anglesey despite having lodged an official appeal for them to disclose the information.
This is not the only instance of Anglesey County Council refusing to deal correctly with Freedom of Information requests. An Anglesey resident has been in touch with the Druid to relate his experiences in using an FoI request to ascertain the salary of the present MD, David Bowles, the length of his contract, and what profit is paid to SOLACE, the company through which Mr Bowles is contracted. After posting his initial FoI request, the Council has a statutory duty within 20 days to either furnish the information or, if they believe exemptions to release apply, issue a Refusal Notice. So far, despite a number of email reminders from the applicant, and more than 30 days over the legal maximum the council has still not responded with either. The applicant takes up the tale:
"What seems to be confounding the council is that they have, on the evidence I have, entered into a confidentiality clause with Solace Enterprises, such that the salary of Bowles would remain secret. Solace represents chief exeuctives and senior managers, and Solace Enterprises is a spin-off company providing executives to local authorities. IOACC admit Bowles is directly employed by Solace, to which IOACC pay a monthly fee for his service. Solace has attracted widespread criticism for inflating chief executives' pay to very high levels. It is quite likely that it was not possible for the Council to contract themselves out of their obligations under FoIA 2000 in this way, but with the Audit regulations now in place, it seems impossible for them to hide it any longer. Still, 54 days since the request - 34 days over the legal maximum, they have not replied nor given a Refusal Notice. It seems that their concern is that Solace might sue IOACC if they breach the confidentiality clause - a classic catch-22 situation that really seems to have them in a proper twist. The Information Commissioner's Office is now investigating the case, and has initially (informally) agreed on the evidence he has that the Council are in breach of the Act, and their solicitor does not seem to understand properly the requirements of FoIA 2000. This is quite alarming in itself, but the steadfast ignoring of the law in not responding in any form for nearly twice the statutory period so far is more so. I think it absurd that a statutory position should have any secrecy about the remuneration it attracts. So, I think the readers may be interested to learn about this story whereby some highly-paid people at the Council have decided that it is perfectly correct for public positions to have a shroud of secrecy cast over them. There is some chance such a concept is legal. But is it morally correct? Not in my mind."
The Druid wholeheartedly agrees. We are currently being asked to bear one of the largest Council Tax rises in the UK whilst at the same time the Council is pursuing a programme of closing local schools and leisure services. Under these circumstances, the question of how much of our taxpayers money is being spent on the salaries upper management of the council is a perfectly legitimate question - are we getting value for money? We don't know because the council is happy to flout Freedom on Information legislation and not tell us.
UPDATE: David Bowles was interviewed on the BBC flagship Today programme on Radio 4 last month about town hall salaries and severance packages. He is quizzed repeatedly on his own salary by Sarah Montague but steadfastly refuses to answer - but does admit he received a £300,000 pay off when he left Lincolnshire Council. You can hear the full interview here (starting around 3 mins 47 secs in).
UPDATE 2: As a commenter points out below, even Katherine Kerswell, the President of SOLACE believes that Council Chief Executives should publish details of their salaries and expenses - accordingly what are you waiting for, IOACC?