AN OUTGOING director at Swindon Council is to receive a severance payment worth nearly £100,000 – prompting the authority to undertake a review to reduce the future redundancy packages for senior staff.
The Adver can exclusively reveal Hitesh Patel, the board director for transformation and strategic projects, will receive £97,000 as part of a package worth £109,000, which also includes the council’s National Insurance contributions.
Mr Patel, who joined the council in January 2005 from drinks firm Diageo, is being laid off because his post will be abolished, as part of the Stronger Together reorganisation, in a bid to save an estimated £16m to balance the budget in 2013/14.
Mr Patel, who is responsible for Wichelstowe and the new 4G broadband project, as well as leading the drive to redesign services, received a total salary and allowances of £130,112 in 2011/12.
The council wanted to keep the level of his severance package secret until he left his post at the end of March.
It banned the press from the cross-party special committee meeting in December to decide the payment, and gagged councillors.
However, the Adver uncovered the amount after a tip-off.
It comes in the week the council revealed an extra 50 posts are set to go as the authority strives to find £4m additional savings to close the budget gap – on top of 70 posts announced before Christmas.
Council leader Rod Bluh said Mr Patel could have received a payout equal to his annual salary, adding: “It was a negotiated settlement which we believe was the minimum we could have supported if he went to a tribunal, and it’s in line with previous terms and conditions.
“Because I was clearly concerned the size of the figure in the current climate was high, and times have changed, I was the one that moved a complete review of terms and conditions for new director posts and current directors.
“I believe we have done the right thing by honouring our terms and conditions. It’s the right time to review the situation for the future given the new financial climate, but none of this reflects in any way on the person in post who has been a very hard-working and honourable employee.”
The issue was hotly debated at Thursday’s full council meeting, when Labour called for assurances the review would be fair on other staff.
The Conservatives accused Labour of trying to pre-determine the outcome of the review.
Coun Des Moffatt, Labour’s finance lead, said: “It’s not right directors can negotiate their package whereas the binman who runs up the street for 20 years after a lorry gets what he’s entitled to by Act of Parliament.”
And Coun Derique Montaut, the former Labour group leader, said: “This is not about knocking senior management, it’s about addressing the issue of public concern that’s been highlighted about golden handshakes that have taken place, not just on this occasion but on other occasions.”