Taxpayers fund £11m in massive pay-offs at Yorkshire quango EXCLUSIVE

ALMOST £11m of taxpayers’ money has been spent paying off staff at the now-defunct regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, including hand-outs to senior managers of up to £100,000 each.

The former quango’s final set of published accounts have revealed the scale of the huge compensation payments made to a string of senior executives – as well as pay-offs for more than 300 other employees – who lost their jobs after the coalition announced it would close down New Labour’s RDAs in 2010.

A Government spokesman revealed last night that in total, almost £60m of taxpayers’ money has now been spent on compensation packages for staff at RDAs across the country.

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That figure includes £10.9m at Yorkshire Forward over the two years to its closure in March 2012, including pay-offs of more than £50,000 each to seven senior managers.

The accounts state that Don Stewart, a long-serving director who spent his final three years working on tourism projects with Welcome to Yorkshire, walked away with the agency’s largest pay-off – pocketing a package from the taxpayer worth £103,000.

Property director Dave Custance was handed £85,000, and assistant chief executive Ruth Redfearn walked away with £82,000.

Mr Stewart and Ms Redfearn are among a group of four former Yorkshire Forward executives who have since set up their own management consultancy in Bradford, to offer services to firms requiring help with “change management”.

Many other former Yorkshire Forward staff have moved straight into new public sector roles after receiving pay-offs.

Among them is Jim Farmery, the project director involved with the disastrous £90m Digital Region public sector-led internet scheme in South Yorkshire which is now costing local councils tens of millions of pounds to prop up.

He received compensations payments worth almost £70,000, and is now a business director at the Government’s new film and arts quango, Creative England.

Chief executive Thea Stein received £63,000. She has recently become head of the Carers Trust charity. Finance director Trevor Shaw took £51,000 and now works for a global logistics firm.

Of all the RDA’s senior managers, only business director Simon Hill resigned without a pay-off, moving directly into the private sector last summer.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the pay-offs were indicative of the high-spending culture which built up around the RDAs.

“Regional development agencies like Yorkshire Forward were bureaucratic and wasteful, so perhaps we shouldn’t be entirely surprised that its final act has been to land taxpayers with this multi-million pound bill,” he said.

The closure of Yorkshire Forward has proved divisive within the region, with many business leaders ruing the loss of its strategic leadership role. Labour MPs have highlighted how the loss of the RDAs has come hand in hand with deep public spending cuts.

But the Government insists the agencies were overly-bureaucratic and that their replacement – business-led local enterprise partnerships, along with funding for private firms through the regional growth fund – is more effective.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills defended the cost of closing down the agencies, comparing the one-off payments with the annual expense of RDAs.

He added: “All staff were compensated in accordance with the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which reflects length of service and salary.”