A council chief criticized for his role in controversial land deals has received a pay rise, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Avid Jackson, chief executive of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, was among a number of senior council officials whose actions during the sale of council-owned land a few years ago were criticized in a report released earlier this year by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO ).
Despite the concerns expressed, Causeway Council’s latest annual accounts show Mr Jackson’s salary has risen from £115,000-120,000 in financial year 2020/21 to £120,000-125,000 in 2021/22.
The NIAO was asked in 2020 by the Department for Communities (DfC), which oversees the governance of Northern Ireland’s 11 local councils, to investigate the sale of land owned by Causeway Council.
In her findings, Colette Kane, the local government inspector for Northern Ireland, said there was evidence council officials were “advocating action that went against best practice” in order to “close deals”.
The audit report, released in July, says the behavior of some senior council officials during the sale of the property “did not meet expected standards” from employees of a public body.
The NIAO report examined two property deals involving Causeway Council: the grant of a right of way over public land in Portstewart to a hotel developer for £1 in 2016 and the sale of land on Castleroe Road in Coleraine for £5,000 in the same year to a charity to enable the development of another hotel.
Ms. Kane’s report said there was one case where both deals were found to be “unlawfully granted” and neither transaction had been shown to have “the best price obtained”.
Planning permission for a new hotel adjacent to council owned land in Portstewart was granted by the council in June 2017 but was overturned following a judicial review process in 2019.
The examination revealed that no expert assessment of the Portstewart site had been carried out before the right of way was granted. Ms Kane also said governance procedures were not being followed by officials and councilors had not received full details of the case before granting approval for the hotel.
In relation to the sale of the Castleroe Road property, Ms Kane said the buyer of the property nominated Mr Jackson for the Freedom of the City of London award, which was presented to him in August 2016.
This came after the buyer made initial contact with the municipality regarding the sale of the Coleraine site – but before the transaction was complete. Ms Kane said this conflict of interest should have been avoided and served to further undermine the “integrity of the transaction”.
The NIAO report made a total of eight recommendations related to its findings, including the establishment of an independent review of the Council’s governance arrangements and a recommendation that the Council should take appropriate action against the Council’s senior officials.
A special meeting of the Causeway Council was held on July 26 following the release of the NIAO report. At the meeting, Council members accepted the findings of the report.
A motion passed at the meeting said that an action plan to implement the recommendations should be completed by August 8 to show how the auditor’s recommendations would be fully implemented by December 30 this year.
When contacted in the last month by the Sunday independent and asked a number of questions related to the implementation of the audit report’s recommendations, the Council did not reply. However, last week a spokesman for the council said a plan was in place to deal with the audit recommendations.
The spokesman said that “all actions” within the plan “are currently being worked on to meet a December 30 deadline”.
Multiple sources have said no action has yet been taken against the senior officials based on the NIAO findings.
A motion urging Mr. Jackson to resign was tabled at a meeting of the council’s Corporate Policy and Resources Committee last week.
Proposed and supported by independent councilors Pádraig McShane and Stephanie Quigley respectively, the motion was intended for public debate but was moved to confidential matters because, councillors were told, there was “staffing”.
During the private discussion, Councilor McShane is understood to have asked for his motion to be amended to call for the suspension of the senior officials whose roles in the land deals were highlighted in the NIAO report.
However, according to Council rules, any amended motion must have the support of Council members.
In the vote, five council members voted in favor of the new application process, while six voted against.
As a result, it didn’t go any further.
https://www.independent.ie/news/pay-rise-for-causeway-council-chief-david-jackson-despite-audit-office-criticism-over-public-land-deals-42032994.html Pay rise for David Jackson, chief of the Causeway Council, despite the Court’s criticism of public land deals