Councillors have expressed alarm that the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) is paying two chief executives at the same time without officially explaining why.
Weca audit committee chairman and Bristol Cllr Geoff Gollop, an accountant, says the reasons should have been disclosed in the authority’s annual accounts, published last week.
Instead, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed that Richard Ennis, who received £268,000 in 2022/23, has been paid as interim acting chief exec for the last seven months and counting while the permanent postholder Patricia Greer is on full salary while on long-term sick leave.
Mr Ennis told the committee on Monday, July 3rd, that WECA had been “very open and very public” about the situation, following questions from the LDRS, despite no explanation for the dual payments in the annual draft statement of accounts.
Cllr Gollop (Conservative, Westbury-on-Trym & Henleaze) told the meeting at the combined authority’s new headquarters at Redcliff Street in Bristol city centre that he would not accept or sign-off the papers, which go up to March 31st, without that.
He said: “While the information is very open about the fact we were paying two chief executives for four months of the year, there is no explanation of that or where that is going or what has happened to that.
“The narrative on the set of accounts should be providing that information.
“I would expect, before we have final accounts presented to us, that there would be a note explaining what has happened, why we continue to pay a chief executive and an interim chief executive, and the accounts need to disclose that because it’s an event that happened in 2022/23.
“I am surprised that has not been discussed at WECA committee in some form – it may have been privately but it certainly hasn’t been discussed at public meetings and there is nothing on record.”
WECA committee is the combined authority’s decision-making body comprising metro mayor Dan Norris and the leaders of its three constituent councils – Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset.
Mr Ennis told the meeting: “These things have been reported on.
“We have been very open and very public about the fact, as we should be in the accounts.
“It’s incredibly important that we don’t comment on things that are in relation to individual members of staff, and our current position is as reported [by the LDRS], that the current chief executive is currently unwell.”
Cllr Gollop said: “The accounts appeared on the website with my name on, implying that I was going to approve them.
“That was unfortunate particularly as I had never seen them and was only able to find them by repeatedly looking at the website to see if they had been posted.
“It’s someone’s fault at the organisation.”
Interim director of investment and corporate service Stephen Fitzgerald said: “The accounts are draft accounts – the secret is in the word, ‘draft’.
“The particular issue of trying to balance appropriate disclosure with the confidentiality that people are bound to benefit from and seeking that balance, we can talk to colleagues at [WECA’s external auditors] Grant Thornton.
“We will have a look at what ultimately is the appropriate thing, and perhaps adding a note may be appropriate.” Cllr Gollop said: “You know they’re draft, I know they’re draft, but my name is still on the accounts without me having seen them first.”
Dr Greer has been on absence through illness since the end of November 2022 and Mr Ennis stepped up to her role on a temporary basis days later from his previous position as interim director of investment and corporate services.
He received £124,467 from the four months between December 1st and March 31st alone while the permanent incumbent was also being paid.
That is as far as the annual accounts go, but WECA confirmed to the LDRS last week that the situation remains the same.
Mr Ennis’s pay is what he received and the figures do not include fees WECA would have paid to a recruitment agency to secure his services.
As a contractor he does not receive an employer’s pension contribution or other employee benefits such as holiday pay or sick pay.
LDRS, Adam Postans