04 May 2011

H&F council chief given 'unfit' payout then gets £200,000 role, says Indie

Regular readers will recall the shocking tale of Nick Johnson, housing supremo at Tory Hammersmith & Fulham council. He was named Retiree of the Year in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs Awards for retiring early from Bexley Council in 2007 with a £50,000 pension on grounds of permanent ill health only to pop up the following year in Hammersmith to run the council's arm-length housing organisation H&F Homes, which has earned him nearly a million pounds of public money.

Now we learn from the Independent on Sunday (Council chief given 'unfit' payout then gets £200,000 role - hat tip Shepherd's Bush blog) that the Audit Commission is investigating the consultancy fees the council has paid Mr Johnson. The matter has also been referred to HM Revenue & Customs.

The council has been criticised by the (Tory) local government minister Grant Shapps, who said, "It's not justifiable to have healthy employees working in local government and claiming an ill-health benefit at the same time. Councils have power to stop such payments and should use them."

Mind you, when Steve Cowan, H&F's Labour opposition leader, wrote to Shapps's bosss Eric Pickles to suggest that Johnson should forfeit his Bexley pension for now by being moved from a private contractor status onto PAYE, Pickles was distincly unenthusiastic.

The Indie added, "While running H&F Homes, contracts for sheltered housing services were awarded to Notting Hill Housing, a London housing association run by Mr Johnson's partner, Ms Davies. There is no suggestion of impropriety or a conflict of interest."

Picking up the story on Monday, the Daily Mail (Council boss quits due to PERMANENT ill health. Weeks later he lands a new public sector job on £260,000 a year) noted that Ms Davies earned £197,000 a year as Notting Hill Housing's chief executive.

The Mail also gave an idea of the noble self-sacrifice Mr Johnson has made for H&F taxpayers, quoting him as saying, "I understand the interest in all this but what I earn is really not a lot. I could double or triple my salary if I was working as a consultant in the private sector."

Let's hope the Audit Commission can finally shed light on this deeply odd state of affairs.

PS Let's not forget that the job Mr Johnson was brought into do was to modernise more than 17,000 Hammersmith council homes with funding from the last Labour government’s £230 million Decent Homes programme. No chance of that happening these days.

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