Todays Independent on Sunday has this story about Nick Johnson, the former Chief Executive of Bexley Council in south east London who was retired on the grounds of ill health and on the understanding that he was "permanently unfit" to work. He was awarded a gold plated £50,000 per annum pension allowance on top of a £300,000 payout from Bexley when he left.
Within months he was employed by our own Council as a "consultant" on 950 of your pounds a day advising the Council on how to manage their soon to be closed housing division "H&F Homes". The Independent claims that since leaving Bexley Mr Johnson has trousered £830,000 - much of which was made possible by classifying himself as a "consultant" and being paid through a company he set up rather than being on the Council's official payroll. This allowed him to take both his pension from Bexley plus his fees from our own Council. This won our Council a coveted "Rotten Boroughs" award from Private Eye recently.
And what of this company? It is called Davies Johnson Ltd - which refers to his own surname but also that of his partner Kate Davies. So what does Kate Davies do? She runs Notting Hill Housing, a London housing assocation which received contracts from H&F Housing during Nick Johnson's time with H&F Council. There is no suggestion that anything untoward hapenned, but it has raised eyebrows locally.
The Audit Commission has referred the matter to HM Revenue & Customs.
H&F Labour Opposition Leader Stephen Cowan has this to say:
"Nick Johnson was billing Hammersmith and Fulham £270,000 a year, while also claiming about £50,000 in pension. He was able to do this because he is classified as a consultant."Andy Slaughter MP adds this:
"Everything about this is wrong. Employing someone who is already paid £50,000 a year because they are too ill to work. Paying them almost £1,000 a day as a consultant but carrying on paying for more than three years at a cost to the taxpayer approaching £1m. I have raised Mr Johnson's employment with those paying his pension, and HMRC and I'm told the auditor is also looking at it. But this is a loophole that needs to be closed."But a spokesperson from H&F Council counters:
"Mr Johnson made the council formally aware of his relationship status and any potential conflict of interest. We put in place formal protocols to ensure there was no conflict of interest."So that's OK then.