£83k payout for former Central Beds Council children's services director

The former director of children’s services Sue Harrison received a compensation payment of nearly £83,000 when she left Central Bedfordshire Council, a meeting heard.

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 12:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th June 2022, 12:34 pm

Ms Harrison, who was one of the local authority’s highest paid employees, said in an email to councillors in September it was time for her “to find a new challenge”.

Her departure followed at the end of October, and she was announced soon after as the executive director for education and skills at Birmingham City Council.

CBC paid Ms Harrison £82,707 in “compensation for loss of office”, according to a report to its audit committee.

CBC HQ and Sue Harrison

The annual accounts show she received almost £199,000 between April 2021 and April 2022, including a pension contribution of nearly £24,000. The salary band for her position is £155,000 to £159,999.

In a social media post, Independent Aspley and Woburn councillor John Baker said: “Given Ms Harrison didn’t turn up to a special children’s services scrutiny meeting in September, at which parents protested, it’s hard to understand how such a significant sum of money could be justified.”

Her department came under pressure after a critical Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection in November 2019.

Their report highlighted significant areas of weakness in the local area’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) performance, and a written statement of action was required from CBC and BLMK Clinical Commissioning Group.

A reinspection is thought to be imminent, after the council committed extra finances and staff appointments to improve its SEND provision.

Councillors raised another concern as the educational transport budget now costs CBC more than £9m each year.

Parents subsequently criticised the slow pace of change, despite the impact of the pandemic across council services.

Central Bedfordshire SEND Action Group staged a protest outside the council’s Chicksands HQ over a lack of SEND school places, lining up 52 pairs of shoes outside the building, one for each child without a place for last September.

Ms Harrison’s absence from the subsequent children’s services overview and scrutiny committee meeting was attributed to illness.

CBC said about her departure last year: “Sue led the successful transformation of children’s social care to achieve a ‘good’ rating by Ofsted in 2017.

“Following the inspection of local SEND provision in 2019, Sue has developed a comprehensive improvement plan with partners and leaves the council having set the firm foundations for the team to continue this journey.”

Ms Harrison described it as “a huge wrench to leave such a brilliant, dedicated team here in CBC”, saying: “They make a positive difference to children and their families every day.

“I know the council will continue to build on these strengths as I move on.  Like many others, the pandemic has led me to reflect on my future.

“My passion and where I believe I really add the most value is helping organisations at the start of their improvement journey.

“This is the role I fulfilled successfully at Blackpool and here at Central Bedfordshire, but now it’s time for a new challenge.”

She was responsible for 720 staff and a gross revenue budget of more than £76m, according to the council’s website.

As well as children’s services, her director’s brief covers safeguarding and early help, education and business and support services.