South East Wales

Caerphilly council's costly pay rise row explained

Chief executive Anthony O'Sullivan, his deputy Nigel Barnett, and head of legal services Daniel Perkins
Image caption Anthony O'Sullivan, Nigel Barnett and Daniel Perkins had charges against them dropped

For four years, two senior Caerphilly council officers have been suspended on full pay with a third on "special leave".

The action followed a Wales Audit Office report on salary increases and the process has cost the authority millions of pounds.

Now, pay-offs could be given to the suspended pair, deputy chief executive Nigel Barnett and head of legal services Daniel Perkins.

It is not known if a package has been proposed for former chief executive Anthony O'Sullivan.

What is the row about?

In September 2012, a report recommending pay rises of up to 20% for senior staff at the council was presented by the chief executive to a cross-party group of councillors.

For Mr O'Sullivan, that amounted to a £26,000 per year increase. The proposal was approved, but very few people seemed to be aware of the decision.

It sparked protests by staff and trade unions because it came at a time when the bulk of the council's staff were on the third year of a pay freeze.

The council eventually reversed the decision and awarded lower pay rises instead.

What happened next?

The Wales Audit Office criticised the way the whole situation was handled and in 2013 declared the salary rises unlawful while suggesting there was a lack of scrutiny at the council.

It led to the three men being suspended and between March and April that year, they were all arrested by Avon and Somerset Police, which was the investigating force.

All three were charged with misconduct in public office in 2014 and a trial was due to take place in Bristol in October 2015 but the case was dismissed with all charges dropped.

The men have remained off work while an internal investigation takes place which could result in pay-offs for two of them.

Could the council sack them?

The rules are designed to try to make sure senior members of staff with important legal responsibilities such as finance and social services are not dismissed without good reason.

Ultimately in this case, the men have not been convicted of anything and have had no disciplinary conclusions reached against them.

It appears the approach councillors will be asked to consider next week is to cut their losses with a financial agreement for Mr Burnett and Mr Perkins, while the investigation into Mr O'Sullivan continues.

What is the final bill going to be?

It was revealed in June that the cost to the authority had reached £3m - equivalent to about £40 per household in the county.

That worked out at more than £1.8m towards their pay with another £900,000 on legal costs and £469,000 set aside for further costs.

Since June, the bill for salaries has passed £2m with the legal costs also going up.

With councillors being asked to approve settlement deals for Mr Barnett and Mr Perkins, the size of the financial agreements are expected to be substantial.

However, a report said the settlement is less than the cost of continuing with the investigation.

There was no information on whether another settlement with Mr O'Sullivan is likely in the near future.

Whatever the final outcome, it has been an expensive process for the council.

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