Probe Over Council Chief’s £130,000 Pay-Off

The new administration in East Lothian has ordered an inquiry into the controversial £130,000 redundancy payment promised to the authority’s outgoing chief executive. The SNP and Liberal Democrat coalition has demanded that lawyers investigate the details of the payment to John Lindsay which was agreed by the council’s previous Labour administration.

In one of their first actions since forcing Labour into opposition, the new Nationalist leader of the authority and his Lib Dem deputy yesterday told council officials to prepare a report on the pay-off.

Controversy over the payment flared up earlier this year after it was revealed that Mr Lindsay, 59, would receive the redundancy payment on top of the pension of £55,000 a year and a lump-sum payment of £155,000 which he was entitled to when he retired after more than 40 years of service.

Central to the investigation by the council – which is likely to be carried out internally – will be the fact that Mr Lindsay himself recommended the complicated redundancy plan to the previous council.

In a paper from his department approved by the then-Labour-run authority, he recommended that the department of the chief executive and the department of corporate finance and IT be merged. The post of “chief executive/director of the department of the chief executive”, which Mr Lindsay holds, would disappear.

The then-Labour administration agreed the plans – which cut the number of senior officials from five to four with a claimed saving of £400,000 over four years – but also rubber-stamped the redundancy payment.

But speaking after the first meeting of the new council, Stuart Currie, the council’s Lib Dem deputy leader, revealed that the new administration would not let the matter rest. He said: “We have asked for legal advice on the redundancy. It was quite clear on the doorsteps in the election that we have just fought that this was an issue that the voters were asking questions about.

“Whether it is the case that we can do nothing legally or whether there are legal options, we do not yet know. Whatever the position, we want to share this information with the public of East Lothian. We are not in the business of having secrets in this new administration.”

David Berry, the SNP councillor who has gone from being his party’s only representative in the last council to being elected leader yesterday, said: “This is about the manner in which this was done, something I expressed reservations about in the last council.”

Mr Berry, who will have to work with Mr Lindsay for three months before the chief executive retires, added: “This is not about playing the man but playing the ball. It’s not about John. I am not indulging in some kind of witch hunt against John. But I do believe that the process was not properly followed at the time and as the new council we have a responsibility to look at this.”

Mr Lindsay is understood to be furious that the controversy has overshadowed his retirement after 40 years in local government, and is said to believe that he has acted properly throughout the process. However, when approached by The Scotsman yesterday to put his side of the story, Mr Lindsay refused to comment.