Belfast Telegraph

Council seeks to recoup 'improper' payout to ex-boss

By Victoria Leonard

The Local Government Auditor's report has highlighted concerns over time off in lieu (TOIL) payments worth thousands of pounds made to the former chief executive of Larne Borough Council in its final days.

The report, released this week, cites figures from an investigation carried out for Mid and East Antrim Council, which revealed that former legacy council chief executive Geraldine McGahey was paid £15,317 for 345.5 hours of overtime. Another former senior staff member received £12,623 for 393 hours of overtime. These were accrued in the 15 months prior to the end of Larne Borough Council.

The report notes that these individuals would not normally have a contractual entitlement to TOIL payments, and that each received an honorarium payment for extra work carried out for the Review of Public Administration. A third council officer, a manager, received £2,943 in TOIL, but this was found to be "appropriate" for their grade.

According to the report, Mrs McGahey's contract stated that she would have to "work in excess of the normal hours" and her salary reflected this.

Her contract also contained a clause on "unsocial working hours" which were reflected in the salary.

The report says that Mrs McGahey and the senior staff member described the working hours at Larne Borough Council as "excessive, involving huge amounts of additional work in evenings, particularly around attendance at evening meetings". They felt that the hours they claimed in March 2015 were "only a fraction of the additional hours worked over several years".

Mrs McGahey, who is now a non-executive director for the Northern Health Trust, has offered "in principle" to repay the money to the council.

The TOIL payments were approved at a meeting of Larne Borough Council on March 16 2015. However, Mid and East Antrim Council's investigation found that this meeting was "not provided with sufficient information" such as written legal advice, the terms of employment of those being paid, potential costs and the "degree of self-interest" of the chief executive.

Despite incoming chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Council Anne Donaghy asking Larne councillors not to proceed with a decision on payments, they opted to honour the payments for staff members who had already made applications.

This triggered the three payments, which Mid and East Antrim Borough Council's investigation described as "inappropriate, irregular and improper".

The Audit Office report expressed concern that the payments were made "without proper consideration of all the facts".

It recommends that council pursue Mrs McGahey's pledge to repay the money, and says the Audit Office intends to "follow up" on this matter.

Mid and East Antrim Council said it had sought legal advice on the potential for recovery of the payments made to Mrs McGahey and the senior manager.

It said Mrs Donaghy has written to Mrs McGahey and the senior officer asking them to repay the money, and is awaiting a response.

If they do not, the council "will consider the legal advice including whether any further action can be taken to secure recovery of these payments".

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