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Fury at £475,000 payout by Highland Council to senior official as restructure 'savings' come under fire

By Scott Maclennan

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News of the massive payout came just weeks after it was revealed the local authority was forking out £936 a day for an education consultant.

And it comes against a backdrop of a budget black hole of nearly £30 million.

The whopping payout to the former director of community services William Gilfillan was slammed by Tory group leader Andrew Jarvie.

Mr Gilfillan went after almost 20 years with the council as part of moves towards a new structure of the senior management, announced in May last year as a money saver.

Cllr Jarvie said: “We are just at the beginning of blowing the smoke away from the chief executive’s restructuring exercise, but it’s becoming quite clear that she has not delivered what was promised.

“Councillors were categorically guaranteed that this would save about £100,000 per year, not involve redundancies and reduce the number of heads of service to around 10. This was pressed home repeatedly.

Councillor Andrew Jarvie.
Councillor Andrew Jarvie.

“Instead, we see a £500,000 severance bill for one member of staff, another hired on £1000 per day and the number of heads of service in our directory nearly double what was promised.

“The budget leader was adamant last week money has been saved. But how? There now appear to be as many staff in the lowest senior management tier as there was in the entirety of the previous three tier management structure.

“There is more to uncover. It’s a horrifying cash incinerator and we need urgent answers from the chief executive.”

Finance secretary and Highlands MSP Kate Forbes also waded into the row, saying: “Budgets are under immense pressure right now, particularly as we start to recover from the impact of Covid.

“Across the Highlands, there are pressures on local infrastructure and there are many people in need.

MSP Kate Forbes.
MSP Kate Forbes.

“As the local MSP, I know that every penny of public funding needs to go as far as possible to relieving these pressures and supporting people.

“Local councillors have been rightly asking legitimate questions about the recent appointment of a senior leader on a £200,000-plus salary and I’m sure they’ll be asking questions about these latest figures.”

Fort William councillor Andrew Baxter was also angry, saying: “We were told that the restructuring of the senior management of the council was aimed at saving us money and that is why councillors supported it.

Councillor Andrew Baxter.
Councillor Andrew Baxter.

“We are not seeing openness and transparency from the council as to exactly how much this reorganisation has cost us and whether it is still costing us money in the long-term so there are still lots of unanswered questions surrounding this particular case.”

Cllr Jarvie stopped short of demanding the resignation of chief executive Donna Manson but told a meeting of the council’s corporate resources committee: “I distinctly recall the chief executive saying when she joined this council that if she didn’t make it work she’d resign. So if she hasn’t made it work, can I ask when you would call for her resignation?”

The council says the money paid to Mr Gilfillan includes pay in lieu of notice, redundancy costs, added years compensation, pension payments made by the council, and an actuarial valuation of the total cost of any annual added years payments that will be made to the employee in future.

A council spokeswoman said: “Payment was made to a former director for loss of office in accordance with council policy and contractual entitlement.

“Financial details including payment to pension fund is disclosed in the council’s accounts.”

Related article:Highland Council schools boss in shock exit

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