Watchdogs set to get teeth into row over ex-SBC chief’s departure

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TWO national watchdogs are to be asked to investigate why senior officers at Scottish Borders Council have refused to divulge information regarding the shock departure last year of chief executive David Hume.

A member of the public who sought details using freedom of information (FoI) legislation believes the Borders public has a right to know why Mr Hume left his £116,000-a-year job, the discussions relating to his leaving and, crucially, the cash and pension deal which the 59-year-old received when he quit after nine years at the helm.

And after drawing a blank through FoI channels at the local authority’s Newtown St Boswells headquarters, the man, who does not wish to be named, says he will lodge an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner.

He will also submit a complaint with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman alleging maladministration by the council for claiming Mr Hume had retired when he had, claims the requester, taken voluntary redundancy.

In early July last year, SBC revealed that Mr Hume was retiring due to “a change in his personal circumstances” with effect from August 15. It was also revealed that he was on sick leave and, in the event, he did not return to his office at Newtown.

Using FoI legislation, the member of the public submitted at the end of January a formal request to SBC for information “including any discussions relating to the retirement or voluntary severance of Mr Hume from his post, including information on any payments or benefits given to Mr Hume upon his leaving the council, and clarification whether Mr Hume did, in fact, retire from SBC or left the council under a voluntary severance arrangement or package”.

The questioner received the following response: “Unfortunately, I am unable to provide you with any of the information requested as this is all personal information relating to the former chief executive and is therefore exempt under section 38 (1) (b) of Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act.”

The man then sought a review of that decision and last week received a response from Ian Wilkie, head of legal and democratic services, who said the request had now been considered by the council’s freedom of information advice group – a panel comprising Mr Wilkie and two other non-elected departmental heads from a pool of six.

Mr Wilkie said the group had agreed no response would be provided relating to discussions held with Mr Hume “on the grounds that the authority does not hold this information”.

And he explained that the group had also advised that no response would be given relating to information on any payments or benefits awarded to Mr Hume “on the grounds that this was personal information”.

Mr Wilkie did, however, add that Mr Hume “retired ... under the council’s voluntary severance arrangements”.

TheSouthern this week sought clarification of why the council did not hold information on the discussions with Mr Hume and was told by a spokesman: “The council does not minute meetings with staff regarding retirement arrangements.”

The spokesman conceded that retirement and voluntary severance were not the same thing and offered a modified reason why Mr Hume had departed.

He stated: “Mr Hume left the council under a voluntary early retirement arrangement.”

And with regard to payments made to Mr Hume, the spokesman added: “All staff are entitled to have personal information treated confidentially.”

The complainer said it beggared belief that there was no record of discussions with Mr Hume who was, after all, the highest paid employee of the council.

He said: “Voluntary redundancy and retirement are two very different events and this, I’m sure, would have huge implications for the amount of money handed over to Mr Hume on his departure. It is worrying that when some simple questions are asked about this, you get nothing but obfuscation.

“The simple fact is the people of the Borders have a right to know.”

A council spokesman, while declining to disclose Mr Hume’s contact details, said he had been in touch with the former chief executive regarding this article.

At the time of going to press, Mr Hume had not contacted us.