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Only three at City Hall know Morrison pay-out figure

Just three people at City Hall know how much Norwich City Council paid out to head off a High Court battle with Morrison, it has emerged - with the authority's chief executive not among them.

The revelation came to light as city councillors questioned why they were not allowed to know the details of the financial settlement the council reached with the company.

Members of the city council’s audit committee queried how they could carry out democratic checks and balances without knowing the amount and council officers revealed the number at City Hall who knew was so tiny even chief executive Laura McGillivray was not privy to the sum.

The city council reached the settlement with Morrison, the parent company of former city council contractor CityCare in April – but the figure has never been revealed.

Before the settlement was reached it looked as if Morrison, which had successfully obtained an injunction to prevent the city council awarding a £17.5m contract to maintain 17,000 council homes to Connaught Partnerships, would take the council to a potentially costly High Court showdown.

The issue was raised as the city council’s audit committee discussed the annual governance report by local government watchdogs The Audit Commission.

James Wright, Liberal Democrat councillor for Eaton, was told by deputy chief executive Bridget Buttinger that the figure was confidential and could not be shared.

He said: “As members with responsibility for checks and balances I feel we ought to know.”

Stephen Little, chair of the committee and Green councillor for Town Close ward, said: “We have been told even the chief executive doesn’t know, which was very surprising to me” and added he was concerned that such confidentiality agreements made it difficult for public money to be accountable.

Mrs Buttinger confirmed Mrs McGillivray was not aware of the sum and said there were “probably three people” at City Hall who did know. Although she did not reveal who they were she said the number had been kept low because of the “high risk” to the council if the confidentiality agreement was breached.

She said the district auditor Rob Murray had been made aware, for the purposes of carrying out his audit of the council’s finances, what the sum was and had not raised the figure as a concern.

The district auditor said he intended to give an unqualified opinion on the council’s financial statements overall – meaning he had no major concerns.

A 31-point action plan has been drawn up to deal with the issues raised.

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