Council chief executives across Northern Ireland are in line for severance pay deals of around £200,000 each, it can be revealed.
Decisions on the go-ahead for legislation to shrink the current 26 councils into 11 are expected in the next few weeks, sharply reducing the number of chief positions.
The shake-up will also squeeze other top posts with senior directors in councils also being entitled to pay-off packages averaging £160,000.
And it has emerged the offer for council chiefs is up to 10 times the pay-offs being suggested for councillors — ‘golden handshakes’ of about £20,000 apiece — some of whom have served for more than 30 years.
Pressure group the Taxpayers Alliance has criticised the pay-off levels which it warned contradict the aim of the council mergers— due to take effect from May of next year — to save money.
The lobbyist’s own chief executive Matthew Elliott said: “If local authorities are merged to save taxpayers’ money, it would somewhat defeat the purpose of the exercise to dole out huge wads of cash.”
Almost £18m has been estimated as the overall cost of top-level redundancies for chief executives and senior officers when the current 26 councils are shrunk down to 11 — compared to a total of just over £5m for more than 120 councillors whose seats are set to disappear.
A report prepared for the Stormont Executive estimates about two-thirds of chief executives — 17 of the current 26 — will take redundancy, although other senior sources have calculated it will be between a quarter and a third.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots, whose portfolio includes local councils, said: “There’s a reasonable number (of chief executives) who will want to step down once they see what might be available to them. I suspect it will be at least a quarter.
“But there is a reasonable possibility that a much greater proportion of senior officers will remain with the new organisations and the cost of redundancies would be much lower.”
The analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculated, however: “The average cost per redundancy has been assumed at £200k per chief executive and £160k per director based on discussions with DoE and experience from other redundancy programmes.”
But DUP minister Poots insisted: “It is not possible to say exactly how much individual chief executives will receive through the severance package. Individual payments depend on a number of factors such as length of service and current salary arrangements.”