Call for council to lift veil of secrecy

IAN CLARKE Pressure was last night mounting on Breckland Council to lift the veil of secrecy over the departure of former chief executive Becky Hellard.

IAN CLARKE

Pressure was last night mounting on Breckland Council to lift the veil of secrecy over the departure of former chief executive Becky Hellard.

Labour group leader Robin Goreham has written to William Nunn, leader of the Conservative-controlled council, voicing concern over the authority's “inability or unwillingness” to release more information about the resignation of the £100,000-a-year top officer. Ms Hellard, 40, was under investigation for a month on “issues surrounding her”. She quit last month. It then emerged she had got a senior job with Bradford Council, giving her a pay rise of up to £25,000.

The EDP has tried to unearth details under the Freedom of Information Act about Breck-land's investigation and impact on council tax payers. But the request was largely refused and no documentation released. The EDP will lodge an appeal against the decision with the national Information Commissioner.

Mr Goreham said Breckland's response to our questions was “simply not satisfactory”.

In his letter to Mr Nunn, Mr Goreham said: “I believe the rate- paying public are owed some fuller explanations.” He asked Mr Nunn a series of questions:

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Which person, or persons, decided what information would be “appropriate for the council” to offer to the EDP?

As Ms Hellard resigned from her position, are you able to confirm if she received any payment from the council other than holiday pay on her depar-ture? What are the “standard payments” mentioned?

The EDP was told that “much of the investigation was conduc-ted outside council time”. Where and when was it conducted? Were meetings formalised with proper minutes taken?

Further to the previous question, if decisions of this magnitude were made “informally”, is it fair to expect elected members to remain silent and not express their concerns?

Relating to Ms Hellard's departure, the newspaper was told that “no formal policy” was applied. In answer to another question, however, the EDP was told that “the normal formalities were followed”. What are these normal formalities and is there a policy in existence or not?

I understand that Ms Hellard applied for at least two positions prior to the allegations being made against her. Furthermore, she discussed her plans with senior members and officers. Are you able to confirm that her decision to leave the council's employ in no way relates to the said allegations?

The EDP has spoken to several Breckland staff members who are angry at the lack of information they have been given. “Most of what we know we have found out by reading the EDP,” said one.

A range of possible reasons for the investigation and Ms Hellard's departure have been passed to the EDP and we will be seeking answers from Breckland.

The first full council meeting since Ms Hellard left Breckland is tomorrow.