It comes down to this. Residents have a right to expect total transparency after Ms Weastell received a £400,000-plus payout in return for dropping an employment tribunal case about alleged “bullying and victimisation” on the part of Keith Aspden, the council leader, which he denies.
Meanwhile councillors now need to establish why Coun Aspden was permitted to attend a key meeting which discussed the severance package and his belief that his presence was, in fact, compliant with the council’s code of conduct.
Either the senior Lib Dem councillor erred – or the code needs to be tightened up so it becomes more compatible with the once sacrosanct Nolan principles on public service. Yet what is clear is that the council’s auditors, Mazars, have been sufficiently concerned to issue a Public Interest Report – a rare step in local government – questioning the appropriateness of some of the severance payments that were made to Ms Weastell after her ‘early retirement’ was ratified by the authority in February 2020 on the grounds of ‘efficiency’. She had been on sick leave for many moths prior to that decision.
Furthermore, City of York Council’s attempts to help local families, and businesses, recover from the Covid pandemic will continue to be compromised until the public, the most important people of all in this saga, can have full confidence in its senior team of elected councillors and officials.
It is a task made even more necessary, and urgent, by the Mazars report and use of public funds at a time when York’s council, like all town halls, is facing huge financial pressures.
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