Council boss ‘forced out’ amid cuts

Phil Coppard
Phil Coppard
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A YORKSHIRE council which is facing £24m of cuts paid its former chief executive three months salary and a year’s pension to force him out of office with immediate effect.

Phil Coppard’s 36-year career at Barnsley Council, the last 12 of which were as chief executive, was brought unceremoniously to an end this week despite him agreeing to work his notice period until April.

He said Labour leader Stephen Houghton informed him in December he no longer had the backing of the ruling group and they agreed he would work a three month notice period from January 9 to April 9 this year and have his pension paid until March 2013.

Mr Coppard claims this was then changed without explanation and he was offered three months salary in lieu of notice in return for leaving immediately.

The cost to the authority – which has made more than £20m of savings and is having to make another £24m of cuts by 2015 – is yet to be revealed, however according to the council’s accounts for the last financial year, Mr Coppard had a £138,000 salary and received £26,000 in pension contributions that year.

The revelations are in stark contrast to the statements released by the council last month, which praised Mr Coppard’s work and claimed that the change at the top had been agreed “by mutual consent”.

Mr Coppard said he is yet to be given a reason as to why he was forced out so hurriedly, but said he feels he became a “lightening rod” for the discontent over the cuts to local government funding.

“The leader wanted me to go, he never really said why,” he said. “Clearly he was being pushed by the Labour group.

“It is not clear to me or to any of the many letters of support I have received what problem would be solved by my departure. Obviously you do not go 12 years as chief executive without making a few enemies and there is a lot of pressure on the council because of the budget cuts.

“We were trying to work our way through that, but clearly not everyone liked what I was doing.”

Mr Coppard said he believes he made a mistake last year when he indicated to Coun Houghton he intended to retire by March 2013.

“Really from then on I became a lightening rod for everything that was going on,” he said.

“I don’t feel particularly bitter, but I do feel considerable indignation that after a 36-year career during which we achieved a lot that I am proud of, I was ushered out of the door in this way. I made it perfectly clear at the time that I did not agree with what was happening, but I would consent to it simply because I had little choice.

“It is not possible to do the job if you do not have the support of the leader. I’m not going to hold any grudges, I started here in February 1976 and I love this place.”

Coun Houghton said the authority felt it had to act after Mr Coppard revealed he would announce his retirement this year and leave in 2013. Coun Houghton added that it was better he left with immediate effect so all parties could move on.

He said: “Given the challenges the council is facing, which are huge, I and other members felt we needed a chief executive, not only to see those challenges through but also to take us on through the next four or five years at least.

“Obviously we thank Phil for his contribution, he has been a very good chief executive, but it was clearly time to move on.”

Coun Houghton said that the contribution to Mr Coppard’s pension would work out cheaper for the authority than paying a chief executive salary for the six or seven months it will take to recruit a replacement.

He said Steve Pick, the current director of finance, will stand in until a full time replacement is appointed.