A COUNCIL tax payer on a year long crusade to find out how much public money Cumbria County Council has spent on director pay offs is refusing to give up despite a set-back.

Steve Atkinson, 58 of Loppergarth, wants the cash-strapped authority to reveal what it paid to former £170,000-a-year chief executive Jill Stannard, who retired aged 55 a year ago amid reported claims of a £400,000 ‘golden goodbye’.

More recently, he has also demanded the council tell the public what it paid to Angela Harwood, its former head of Legal Services; Dominic Harrison, its former fire chief, and to Julia Morrison, the recently-departed director of its troubled Childrens Services, which was found by Ofsted to be ‘inadequate' last June.

Mrs Morrison, who earned £125,000-a-year, was on sick leave for four months and left the authority in March to ‘pursue interests outside of the county’.

Officials praised her for her three years of dedicated service.

After being told by the council that the details will be published in its 2013-14 accounts later this year, Mr Atkinson took his case to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which rules on Freedom Of Information complaints.

But the Cheshire-based watchdog has told him the council was within its legal rights to withold the information until such time as it is ready to publish in its annual report, expected in July.

The Commissioner’s office said in a four-page response: “The council explained that it is not reasonable to release information in advance of its planned timetable, and there is a strong argument in favour of allowing everyone to view this information at the same time.

“It added that if it were to release this information as requested on varying occasions, this could result in partial information being released over a protracted period leading to confusion and inaccuracy.”

Mr Atkinson described the outcome as ‘insulting, wholly and deliberately undemocratic’.

He now plans to appeal and pursue the matter with Local Government MP Eric Pickles who in the past has criticised councils for secrecy over pay.

Mr Atkinson, a lorry driver, represents the Is It Fair group, which opposes council tax.
He said: “I am not at all happy with this. The ICO are, it appears, happy to allow Cumbria County Council to use cop outs.”

"This is our money - public money and we are entitled to know. Some councils give this information out just for the asking - and that’s county councils as well."

A spokesman for the authority, run by Labour and the Lib Dems since May 2013 after formerly being controlled by a Tory-Labour coalition, has said the information would be contained within its annual report in July.

A spokesman said when a member of staff leaves the council it is in line with polices and procedures and not to comment on individual cases.

When Mr Harrison stood down last October, the authority said it was brought about by a restructure designed to save half-a-million pounds.

In the last three years, 88 council staff have been made redundant and and 817 have taken voluntary redundancy.

A further 600 posts are to go this year after the council warned it needs to save £24 million on the back of government cuts.