Town hall bosses have “serious questions to answer” after Merton’s cash-strapped council spent thousands of pounds on redundancy payouts to senior employees, only to rehire them as highly-paid consultants.
Since May 2010, five so-called ‘boomerang bosses’ have found jobs back at Merton Council after £178,000 was spent laying them off.
Last year the council laid off a total of 222 staff – with an average redundancy payout of £14,000 - but five of these former employees have now been appointed as consultants.
Two redundant accountants were re-employed as a business support officer and an Olympics project and support officer, while a former Safer Merton operations manager was reappointed as a special projects consultant.
A former business solutions quality manager is now working as a passenger operations manager.
And Jo Williams, a former head of housing who left when the borough’s social housing was outsourced to Merton Priory Homes, was re-employed as interim assistant director of business improvement.
Unions claimed the jobs should have been given to other managers to stave off further redundancies and that Ms Williams’ position was not advertised properly.
A series of emails, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that a week before chief executive Ged Curran authorised her job offer, the council’s head of human resources, Dean Shoesmith, gave Ms Williams instructions on how to become a consultant.
He also told her he could “push Ged” to pay her larger than the minimum daily rate.
The day before the job offer, Mr Shoesmith then wrote to another director, saying: “If we seek actual CVs from the providers they will ask for feedback as to why we rejected the specific applicants.”
Ms Williams’ consultancy role entitles her to pay between £500 and £850 per day – a pro-rata salary of between £130,000 and £221,000.
Rosemary McCloughlin, head of Unison Merton, said she could not recall any internal job ads or consultation relating to Ms Williams’ newly created role.
She said: "I find it difficult to believe that these “specialist skills and expertise” are not available in house as we are certainly paying enough to highly paid officers who should already have these skills, or be able to acquire them quite quickly, which in turn would be better value for the taxpayer.
“The authority can afford and are willing to pay a consultant a daily rate which exceeds a low paid worker’s monthly take home pay. How fair is that?”
Concerns about the five boomerang bosses were raised in the council chamber on November 23 last year by Conservative opposition councillor Richard Hilton, when it emerged they were collectively paid £178,567 as part of their redundancy.
After seeing the emails relating to Ms Williams’ appointment, Coun Hilton said: “The administration and the chief executive have some serious questions to answer.
“To learn that a consultant, earning more in a week than many people earn in a month, did not go through any competitive selection process having been paid redundancy only 12 months earlier, is very worrying.
"The whole thing stinks and residents will be rightly appalled.”
Speaking in the council chamber, the council's cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mark Allison, said: “The total redundancy costs for the five ex-members of staff was £178,567 which is less than the total annual salary payments that would have been paid had the duties of the jobs concerned not ceased.
“It should be noted that the roles that the individuals were re-hired for are different from the roles they were made redundant from, and were not vacant at the time that they became redundant; they were without a job at the time of redundancy.”
A council spokeswoman, commenting on the appointment of Ms Williams, said: "We advertised this interim post to the interim market through consultancies.
"Jo Williams was recruited to cover the role on an interim basis, as she had the right experience and proved best value for money."