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October 10, 2010 12:38 PM

It appears that the dispute between West Sussex County Council and its former chief has been resolved, but the details are being kept secret. Serena Tierney, Lib Dem Parliamentary Campaigner for Mid Sussex said: "We all saw the headlines that said the County chief had been 'sacked' by the Tory council leader. He was the highest-paid council chief in the country and had been with West Sussex for 10 years. Clearly any unfair dismissal claim could reach something in the region of a million pounds. That's a lot of public money - especially when services are being cut because the council can't pay for them.

"I want to know how much he has been paid. But more than that, I want to know whether the council leader behaved as badly as the news stories claimed. If she did, then she is not the right person to be in charge of our county council. If she didn't, then we need to know that the press stories were unfounded."

Serena has submitted a request for the details of what happened and how much West Sussex taxpayers have paid. WSCC has 20 working days to respond to that request.

In early September 2010 there were a number of press reports that the new Leader of WSCC, Councillor Louise Goldsmith, had 'sacked' the then Chief Executive. These included allegations, emanating from the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE) representing Mr Hammond, that the Chief Executive has been called in to WSCC offices from his holiday and told by Cllr Goldsmith that he was to be sacked. According to ALACE, he was then out on extended leave while the matter was sorted out.

The headline in the regional daily paper, The Argus, was: "West Sussex County Council leader tried to sack chief executive, union claims." At this time there were also various rumours circulating about Mr Hammond's conduct.

Press and website comments expressed a widespread public concern that the handling of the matter was likely to result in a substantially greater payment for termination of his employment to Mr Hammond than would have been the case if it had been handled in accordance with proper procedures.

Mr Hammond's salary and bonus for the previous year had amounted to some £266,000 before pension contributions (at over 20% of gross salary) and he had been employed by the council for 10 years so it seemed possible that a settlement of any unfair/constructive/wrongful dismissal claims might result in a payment in the region of £1million. The potential success of any other claims arising from his treatment but outside the strict employment law claims would be likely to be taken into account in any settlement payment.

Apparently the matter has now been settled but the terms of the settlement are currently being kept confidential by WSCC.

The public in West Sussex has a proper interest in knowing how much public money has been paid to Mr Hammond in relation to the termination of his employment and whether that sum was greater than would have been the case had his employment been terminated in another manner open to WSCC.

In the context of substantial cuts to the WSCC budget, any significant and unnecessary payment relating to the termination of Mr Hammond's employment may have a material bearing on the services that can now be delivered by WSCC.

It also has a proper interest in knowing whether the Leader of the Council conducted herself in a manner that was appropriate to someone with that level of responsibility for the stewardship of substantial sums of public money and the delivery of extensive public services, including materially, whether she sought and obtained legal advice either from the WSCC solicitor or elsewhere before instigating the course of action that led to the termination of Mr Hammond's employment. The public also has a proper interest in knowing whether the general practices of WSCC in relation to the termination of employment of its staff lead to higher than average payments being made.