North West Wales

Conwy Council chief executive suspension cost £350,000

Byron Davies
Image caption Mr Davies was suspended in March 2010 and resigned in June 2011

The suspension of Conwy council's chief executive, while he faced a rape charge, cost the authority almost £350,000, it has emerged.

Byron Davies was suspended for 14 months from March 2010 when he was accused, and later cleared, of raping a woman who also worked for the council.

Assembly member Janet Finch-Saunders said she was "astounded" by the sum.

An auditor's report found the council followed its own procedures correctly and acted reasonably.

The £349,123 total figure, released under the Freedom of Information Act, includes the cost of Mr Davies's salary while suspended, as well as legal costs, investigation costs and allowances paid to other senior council officers who were covering Mr Davies's work.

But it does not include the final settlement paid to Byron Davies when he resigned on 17 June 2011. That figure is known to include at least three months salary and a year's holiday pay.

Mr Davies, 53, from Yelverton, Devon, was cleared of the charge in January 2011, but remained suspended while other, unconnected, disciplinary allegations were investigated.

In total he remained suspended for 14 months, three weeks and one day.

The figures show that during the suspension, he was paid a gross annual salary of £114,435.

The cost to the council of external legal advisers was £71,889, and a further £71,000 was paid to cover costs of the interim management arrangements.

The council also paid £63,000 for "Designated Independent Persons", impartial investigators which it is required by law to appoint when there's a disciplinary allegation against a senior member of staff.

Ms Finch-Saunders, who was leader of the opposition at Conwy council until May 2011, questioned why Mr Davies remained suspended for so long after the court case ended in late January this year.

The Conservative AM for Aberconwy said: "This must be approaching 1% on the council tax. I think residents will be shocked by this amount. We need to ask why such extortionate amounts of money have been spent in this way, particularly when it will impact on the council tax payer.

"The suspension went on rather longer than the end of the trial. It's aroused a lot of curiosity as to why it's gone on so long, and cost the council tax payer so much money."

Conwy council received a grant of £50,000 from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) to cover some of the legal costs and the allowances paid to colleagues who were covering Mr Davies's job.

A report into the way the council handled his departure has also been released, and will be discussed by the council's audit committee next week.

It concludes that the council followed its own procedures correctly and acted reasonably in the way it handled Mr Davies's resignation.

The report, by the auditors KPMG, says: "We believe that the settlement figure paid to Mr Davies under the terms of his compromise agreement was reasonable and, together with the costs and fees associated with reaching this settlement, represented value for money for the council and taxpayer when compared with the significant costs and risks of continuing with the disciplinary action.

"Once the council had decided that there was reasonable cause for a second disciplinary investigation, and we make no findings over this decision, then they could not allow the chief executive to return to work without concluding this process.

"The total cost of the negotiated financial settlement was less than the projected financial costs of taking the disciplinary action to its conclusion - whether the action found in the Council's favour, or not.

"We have therefore concluded that the settlement was reasonable in the overall context of events at Conwy."

Ms Finch-Saunders added: "The council still hasn't got a permanent chief executive in place. We need to make sure that the new appointment is done as transparently as possible."

The council said it did not wish to respond to Ms Finch-Saunders' comments but referred us to the findings of the auditors, that the authority had acted reasonably.

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