#FoI request 003/11 ~ Suffolk County Council – Departure of former Chief Executive Andrea Hill – Matters arising

Departure of former Chief Executive Andrea Hill – Matters arising

Following the above FoI request (003/11) I lodged on 4th July 2011, an answer arrived on 9th August.  Andy Bloxham of The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday evening on the history surrounding this and the vast amount of public money handed over to secure the release of the controversial former chief.  The grand total is a staggering £347,768.  This is not far off the £405,000 that was paid during her tenure in a 4 month period this year, when 13 presumably unhappy staff left the authority, signing compromise agreements.

Andrea Hill is a great believer in these agreements, so much so she signed one herself.  See former felon Glenn Mulcaire, News International, and witness the power in 21st century Britain for these agreements to safely draw a legal veil across a sweeping gamut of potential criminal conduct, malpractice, malfeasance in public office, morally bankrupt behaviour, bullying, harassment, victimisation and so on.  I believe there will be gagging / penalty clauses drawn up into the Andrea Hill agreement, but she is not willing to reveal them – her consent to disclosure was not provided.

Still, I imagine a collective and shuddering sigh of relief will have been released, not only by embarrassed, shame-faced councillors and rejoicing senior colleagues, but by browbeaten junior council staff, and the beleagured Suffolk public.

It will be fascinating to see where (and if) Andrea turns up next, given the recent scandal-prone track record.  The former chief’s propensity for courting controversy, flirting with disaster and lavishing public money on photo-sessions and lifestyle coaches may not easily attract or win over the hearts and minds of future employers.

Suffolk Council appear tight-lipped, and have refused to reveal the information requested in question 2 below, quoting Section 40 (Personal Information) and Section 42 (Legal Professional Privilege) exemptions:

1. Did Andrea Hill sign a compromise agreement (confidentiality agreement) in full and final settlement of her employment contract at the council? (Answer: Yes)
2. If the answer to q1. is in the affirmative, details of any and all gagging clauses and penalty clauses contained within this agreement

The reply states, “… consent to disclosure was not provided.  Further, the nature and content of the information were key factors in contributing to the argument in favour of withholding the information.”  No public interest test is required under a Section 40 exemption.

As for Section 42, the exemption is qualified and does carry a public interest test.  The Council states, “there will need to be strong public interest in disclosure to offset the inevitable strong public interest in favour of the exemption.” (!)

Given the huge level of interest in this case, whipped up by the behaviour of the Chief Executive herself, the suicide of a close senior colleague, the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Wragge & Co. Solicitors to investigate, and by the apparent inability of the council to stem the flow of haemorrhaging public funds, there appears to be a VERY strong interest in full disclosure here – not just locally, but nationally.

Try as I might though, I can’t personally detect any evidence of the council’s quoted “strong public interest in favour of the exemption” – can you?!

Please check back here for updates on the internal review I’ve requested, which is currently underway.

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About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
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