Official: Axed council boss handed £420,000
THE former managing director of Kent County Council walked away with a £420,000 redundancy payoff, it has been confirmed this week.
Katherine Kerswell spent just 18 months as the council's most senior employee but left suddenly in December, after councillor Paul Carter was re-elected as leader.
At the time, the council refused to comment on reports of the £400,000 "golden handshake" Mrs Kerswell received, but the sum was revealed as the County Hall draft accounts were published on Monday.
The details have outraged opposition councillors, who said ultimate responsibility for the debacle rested with Mr Carter.
Leader of the Lib Dem opposition group, councillor Trudy Dean, said: "It was a stupid situation to get into and a very incompetent way of going about things."
Labour leader Councillor Gordon Cowan branded the matter a "disgrace".
He added: "It was a total waste of taxpayers' money and money that could well have been held in abeyance and to keep staff on rather than making cuts."
There has been much speculation that Mr Carter, 57, was forced into getting rid of Mrs Kerswell by disgruntled backbenchers, who felt she increasingly left them out of the decision-making process.
But at a highly charged meeting, when the council decided to scrap the managing director post, Mr Carter gave a much more positive account of her departure.
He said: "Katherine Kerswell has helped shape the organisation to the point where we're now able to take another big step today."
In her brief spell in charge, Mrs Kerswell presided over an unpopular restructuring programme to axe 1,500 jobs, including those of 14 experienced directors.
Many directors walked away with six-figure payoffs, only for the council to later replace them with new faces commanding similar salaries.
As well as her redundancy, Mrs Kerswell, now 49, took home £367,212 in salary and pension contributions between June 2010 and December last year.
Mr Carter has stood by the decision to scrap her role, saying £40 million had been taken out of the staffing budget in the past year.
"Employment law and contractual obligations mean we have to pay significant redundancy costs, but it will save a fortune in the long run," he said.
"Our council is now being guided by officers who have worked their way up and know what life is like from a taxpayers' perspective."
The draft accounts also show a £172,000 redundancy payment was made to former finance director Lynda McMullan.
The settlements were paid at a time when the council is restructuring frontline services as it tries to cut £340 million from its budget by 2015.