A top officer was given a £59,000 payoff to leave his role at the West of England Combined Authority (Weca), annual accounts reveal.
The former employee is understood to be director of infrastructure David Carter who parted company last year with the organisation, which comprises Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset councils and oversees the region’s transport, skills and strategic planning.
It was the only exit payment for any member of staff between April 1, 2021, and March 31 this year. As reported in May, Weca’s external auditors Grant Thornton launched a probe into the golden handshake made in summer 2021, although the amount has only now been publicly disclosed in the accounts.
They were also examining other recent senior leadership team departures from the combined authority, which the finance watchdogs said could be “highly problematic” for Weca’s ability to deliver its objectives.
The auditors decided to dig deeper after identifying a “risk of significant weakness” in the combined authority’s value-for-money arrangements, which Grant Thornton is legally required to form an opinion on.
They began further inquiries amid concerns that “strained relationships” between metro mayor Dan Norris, who heads Weca, and the three council leaders could be jeopardising the effective use of taxpayers’ money. Their final value-for-money report is yet to be published.
But Grant Thornton’s report to audit committee members in April said: “Clarity is required on the rationale for proposing the severance payment and how the payment and its terms were constructed.”
It came a few weeks after South Gloucestershire Council cabinet member Cllr Ben Burton criticised an “exodus” of senior Weca officers, including the directors of finance, legal and infrastructure, suggesting at a cabinet meeting that there could be a “toxic working environment” at the combined authority.
Meanwhile, Weca’s recently published draft statement of accounts also show that chief executive Patricia Greer received a £162,757 salary in 2021/22 – up from £160,352 the year before – plus £34,147 in pension contributions, giving a total remuneration of £196,904.
Salaries for other top officers included £153,657 for the director of infrastructure, £127,653 for director of investment & corporate services, £120,389 for director of legal services and £98,797 for director of business skills.
The papers say the organisation spent just shy of £9million on staff in 2021/22 – £892,000 more than originally budgeted for.
Weca’s draft statement of accounts contains an error about the number of exit payments, which will be corrected for the final version, but a source has confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that there was just one such payoff in the most recent financial year and none the previous 12 months.
A spokesperson for the combined authority said they were unable to comment further on individual staff payments.
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