A one-off £49,500 payment was ‘needed’ to attract West Sussex County Council’s chief executive to the authority, according to an official report.
Nathan Elvery was given the top job on a £190,000 a year salary at West Sussex County Council back in 2016 after £27,000 was spent on a specialist recruitment agency.
But it was not until 18 months later that this newspaper exclusively revealed the extra payment was made, at the time believed to be a relocation allowance.
Then late last year it was revealed Mr Elvery still owned his family home in Epsom, Surrey, alongside a new flat in Chichester — raising questions about if the payment had complied with council rules.
Only after Freedom of Information requests from the public, this newspaper and the BBC did the county council finally publish the four-page document.
It revealed the financial support offered to the new chief executive on his appointment was included in a recruitment proposal that waived part of the requirements of the council’s removal and resettlement scheme and specifically any requirement to move permanently to West Sussex.
This money was ‘provided and used for legitimate expenses incurred by that individual in purchasing a property in West Sussex entirely in line with the terms offered to him on appointment’.
The report also detailed how the support was provided ‘only after having first ascertained that an additional financial payment would be needed to attract two of the three shortlisted candidates’ one of which was Mr Elvery.
It explains how details of the removal and resettlement scheme provisions were included in recruitment material, while the circumstances of the shortlisted candidates and their preparedness to become a permanent West Sussex resident or not were provided to the appointing committee.
The financial support provided to the chief executive was because the role was ‘considered hard to fill and was to act as a recruitment and retention incentive in addition to the salary being offered’.
The payment was to be used to ‘enable the better performance of the postholder’s duties’.
The report added: “For clarity the scheme is not called a ‘relocation’ policy. The use of this phrase is misleading in relation to the policy which was applied to the recruitment of the chief executive.”
A spokesman for the council said: “The decision to make an allowance of 25 per cent available as part of the recruitment package was made when the package was put together.
“It was made available to all candidates in order to enable the appointed person to be easily accessible to the Council’s HQ in Chichester.”
The county council explained that the position was classified as ‘hard to fill’ because of the nature of the post and the ‘limited and highly competitive marketplace at the time of the appointment’.
A decision on the payment for the specific role was approved before the appointment and would have been available to any successful candidate and was not asked for, the council confirmed.
Opposition members at the council have been vocal in their criticism of both the payment and the entire process.
James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group, described how the ‘whole saga has been a tale of lack of transparency and half truths’.
He added: “It is absurd to say that the job could not have been filled at a salary then of £160,000, now £190,000, without the extra payment. This was excessive generosity by a cash strapped council at a time of frozen salaries for most staff, and cutbacks in frontline services.”
He described how the council leadership has always claimed the payment was fully in line with council policies, but suggested while it is clear any payment was intended to assist with relocation and moving expenses the rules were not correctly applied to allow the purchase of a second property.
Dr Walsh added: “Members on the appointing panel were told about the extra payment to ‘relocate’, but not that Mr Elvery would not actually be moving.
“Even the initial private report to the [former] chairman Mr [Lionel] Barnard has been subsequently edited with additional information included in the now public version.
“Information has had to be dragged out by myself, and the Press via a Freedom of Information request, which all indicates a fairly determined effort to hide the truth from the taxpayer.”