Caerphilly council chief to appeal sacking after £4m pay saga

By Nelli Bird
BBC News

Media caption, Anthony O'Sullivan: "I have nothing to apologise to anybody for"

A council chief who was sacked after being suspended on full pay for more than six years has said he will appeal the decision.

Anthony O'Sullivan, the former chief executive of Caerphilly council, said he had "nothing to apologise for".

He was suspended in 2013 amid arguments over pay for senior staff and earned a salary of £137,000 a year since then.

Councillors decided to dismiss him without notice at a meeting on Wednesday night.

Experts say they believe the Caerphilly saga is the longest-running disciplinary case of its kind in local government that they can remember.

The row is thought to have cost the council more than £4m.

Speaking after the meeting, which was closed to the public, Mr O'Sullivan said his sacking was a "travesty" and there had been a "vicious media campaign" against him.

He added he had "no regrets" at what happened at the initial meeting which sparked the row in September 2012.

It was claimed Mr O'Sullivan, his deputy Nigel Barnett and head of legal services Daniel Perkins authorised a 20% pay rise for senior officers, while most other staff had a pay freeze.

Image caption, Anthony O'Sullivan, Nigel Barnett and Daniel Perkins were accused of authorising a pay rise for senior staff while freezing pay for others

After criminal charges were dropped in 2015, the two other men agreed payouts worth £300,000 between them.

But no agreement was made with Mr O'Sullivan and he was put on special leave, continuing to receive his salary.

He said he would be appealing the decision to sack him at an employment tribunal.

"I have nothing to apologise to people in Caerphilly for," he said.

"What I would say to the people of Caerphilly now is wait until the employment tribunal takes place in public, wait until the full facts emerge in the public domain. Then make a reasoned decision.

"The decision they've made this evening, clearly on political ground, will have very very serious repercussions on local government across Wales. This matter is far from concluded."

'The losers are the residents'

Image caption, Interim council leader Barbara Jones said the residents had lost out as a result of the row

Barbara Jones, the council's interim leader, said: "We regret the amount of time and money that has been spent on this matter, but we had no choice other than to follow the agreed statutory process.

"It should also be noted that during this time we had to allow criminal investigations to proceed, which added almost two-and-a-half years to the overall timeframe."

She said the decision concluded a "very difficult chapter" for the council.

The council said it would "vigorously defend" the decision and remained "confident" about its position.

A spokesman said: "Councillors dismissed Mr O'Sullivan after carefully considering all the evidence presented by both parties as part of this complex and thorough investigation.

"Serious allegations of gross misconduct have been proven and therefore the right decision has been made."

Colin Mann, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Caerphilly council, said: "Money has been spent on paying senior officers to stay at home, legal and audit fees when it should have been spent on front-line services, such as keeping public toilets open, keeping street lights on and securing the future of all our leisure centres.

"The losers have been the residents of the county borough. It is vital lessons are learnt and this never, ever happens again."

'Severe spending cuts'

Image source, Google
Image caption, The saga has cost the council more than £4m in taxpayers' money

Jess Turner, of the union Unison Cymru, said the saga should have been sorted "years ago".

"Staff are absolutely sick of it and the council needs to move on," she said.

"Since 2010, severe spending cuts driven from Westminster have cost the jobs of 746 Caerphilly council workers, yet as much as £6m pounds has been ploughed into a single issue."

Caerphilly AM Hefin David said he was "relieved that the saga is over" but it had taken "too long to get to this point".

He added: "Part of that was the two years wasted by the police investigation but the rest was due to unnecessarily complex procedures."

What does the Welsh Government say?

The Welsh Government has already promised to look at what can be done about disciplinary action at local councils in the light of the Caerphilly case.

It had said before Thursday's council decision: "We have been clear that once this process has been completed we will undertake a review to consider whether the law on internal disciplinary proceedings needs to be changed."

It was also the Welsh Government which appointed a "designated independent person" to investigate the situation at Caerphilly. It was that person who recommended to councillors that Mr O'Sullivan should be dismissed without notice.

There has been criticism from opposition councillors and Unison about the length of this saga.

Welsh Government officials say they can only intervene in the running of a council as a "last resort".

Except in urgent or critical cases, it could only step in where the council has declined an offer of support, or failed to get involved with the support provided, or if it has not managed to solve the problems.

The Welsh Government would need strong evidence of "statutory failings", and it would usually intervene after a recommendation from a regulator, like the auditor general for Wales.

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