A 'LOSS of trust' and 'fundamental breakdown in working relationships' led to a South Oxfordshire council chief receiving a hushed-up pay-off totalling £200,000 to resign, the Oxford Mail can reveal.

David Hill left his post as joint chief executive of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils in June, less than a year into the role.

At the time, statements were released from council leaders describing Mr Hill’s positive contributions to the council and wishing him well following his resignation.

However, leaked council papers have shown a pay-off of £180,000 was agreed after senior councillors said there had been a ‘loss of trust and confidence’ in the chief executive, who started in the role in September 2016.

While the precise details of why the relationship broke down have not been revealed, and Mr Hill did dispute them, his solicitors and South Oxfordshire District councillors agreed a compensation package totalling £200,000 of taxpayers' money – which included his and the council’s legal fees.

On top of that, councillors were sworn to secrecy - meaning the full details of decision have not been revealed to the public until now.

Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, says the money could have been pumped into council services instead.

She said: "If these figures are correct, a significant amount of taxpayers' money has been spent on the pay-off of one senior member of council staff who had not been in post for very long.

"Local residents will want to know whether mistakes were made in the appointment, management and severance processes, which could have allowed this money to be spent delivering local services instead."

Law firm Bevan Brittan, acting on behalf of South Oxfordshire District Council, threatened the Oxford Mail with legal action if any information included a leaked council report into Mr Hill’s departure was published, although this never materialised.

When the pay-off package was agreed by councillors, they agreed to insert only ‘positive quotes’ into a public statement, including comments from South Oxfordshire District Council leader Councillor John Cotton and Vale of White Horse District Council leader Councillor Matthew Barber.

This was then released to the media following the agreement, made at a council meeting on June 29 this year.

It was said the reason for Mr Hill's departure was to pursue other opportunities following an extended period of care leave due to illness in the family.

A joint statement from the leaders read: “David brought real strategic insight and analysis to the role. We understand his reasons for resigning and wish him success in the future.”

At a meeting of the full council on June 29, councillors were asked to agree the payment of £180,000 – about 15 months’ worth of his £140,000 annual salary.

This included £136,545 compensation for loss of employment, £35,455 as a notice payment and £8,000 in relocation expenses.

South Oxfordshire District Council head of legal and democratic services Margaret Reed and head of HR, IT and technical services Andrew Down recommended that was paid because a ‘formal performance management process’ would have been unlikely to restore trust and confidence in him.

The council document given to the Oxford Mail notes the option of suspending Mr Hill had been considered but that it would have taken between three and six months for a ‘thorough investigation’ to be completed and it could have ‘tied up’ councillors and officers.

It could also have led to ‘lost opportunity and diversion from the council’s aims and usual business’, the report said.

It states: “Nevertheless, David agreed to resign in return for a financial settlement as neither party wished to address these issues through a formal performance management process.”

In the statement given to the public, Mr Hill said it had been ‘a great privilege’ to serve in the role and he ‘wished (staff and councillors) well in the future’.

He added: “I know they will continue to focus on providing high quality services and great value for money."

Mr Hill was picked from 25 applicants and on a final shortlist of four for a final interview when he was appointed South Oxfordshire District Council’s chief executive in May 2016, replacing David Buckle.

Mark Stone was appointed as acting chief replacement in June and remains in position.

The move and sums of money involved has been criticised by the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said:“At a time when many councils are making dramatic but necessary savings, sky high salaries and pay-outs strike taxpayers as remarkable.

“Budgets are tight and services are being squeezed as necessary savings have to be found and the council should be delivering best value for money in everything it does.

“Pay, perks and pay-offs should be closely linked to performance and local taxpayers won’t be blamed for questioning whether they are always deserved.”

South Oxfordshire District Council were asked for comment but declined. Mr Hill was uncontactable.