TAXPAYERS’ cash totalling £142,733 was paid to the estate of a long-standing council boss following his death in a “highly unusual” move, an investigation has revealed.

David Marchant served as chief executive of Castle Point Council for 16 years before his death in 2021.

An investigation by the Taxpayers’ Alliance has now revealed almost £143,000 was paid “in lieu of annual leave”, agreed in Mr Marchant’s contract when he started at the council in 2005.

Castle Point Council has confirmed to the Echo that under terms in Mr Marchant’s contract, agreed in 2005 when he was appointed, that he was allowed to work 75 per cent of his full-time hours, and any additional hours worked were converted into annual leave.

If Mr Marchant did not use all his annual leave for any year, the unused element would be carried forward, resulting in the accumulated balance which was paid following his death.

The investigation came as the council’s auditors refused to sign off the council’s accounts over “sensitive and complex” issues.

Former Conservative Castle Point council leader, Andrew Sheldon, who has been involved in uncovering the details with the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “When I became leader of the council I discovered that in the months before I took office there was what appeared to be a huge payment of local taxpayers money to the estate of a former council employee that I knew nothing about and I didn’t think could in any way be properly justified.

“It was an eye-watering amount of local taxpayer money that could have been better spent helping residents with the cost of living, or put aside to fight appeals against speculative applications for housing on green belt.”

Mr Sheldon added: “It also appeared that some council officers had been given pay deals that I thought were hugely inappropriate and again without the proper informed consent of elected councillors. I ordered an immediate investigation and was so concerned that I asked that auditors from outside the council be brought in.

“A few months later I tried to set up a panel at the council that would have looked into any concerns regarding the actions of individual unelected officers, but other groups on the council refused to take part in it with cries in the chamber of ‘witch hunt’.

"It is up to the independent party coalition that now run the council to see that any and all investigations are concluded properly and that any appropriate action is taken on behalf of local taxpayers.”

On January 17, Castle Point Council’s cabinet was told an “adverse internal audit report” which impacted the audit sign-off.

The report added: “Due to the sensitivity and complexity of the issues raised, it has taken more than a year to bring this to a point where resolution can be achieved. The issue is still outstanding but is nearing completion.”

The Taxpayers' Alliance have branded the payment "highly unusual".

Elliot Keck, investigations campaign manager at the Taxpayers' Alliance said: "Castle Point Council have serious questions to answer regarding the nature of this payment.

"This looks to be a highly unusual use of taxpayers' money, with a six figure sum paid out based on seemingly spurious grounds with little transparency.

"The council needs to be completely open about how, when and why this payment was made and the justification behind it."  

Castle Point Council responds

CASTLE Point Council has insisted arrangements that led to former chief executive David Marchant’s estate receiving almost £143,000 are not in place for any other officers.

Major concerns have been raised about why Mr Marchant had special terms in his contract, as well as who signed off on the contract and payment.

When Mr Marchant was appointed, in 2005, the council was run by a Conservative administration.

A committee of councillors is believed to have questioned council officials about the payment at a meeting in August 2022. However, no minutes or reports have been published and the council has refused to confirm or deny if the meeting took place and what information it held.

A spokesman for Castle Point Council said: “The gross payment was signed off by the council’s then strategic director for resources in March 2021.

“Arrangements were in place which saw the late Mr Marchant work 75 per cent of full time hours and therefore receive 75 per cent of his full time salary.

"Hours worked beyond that were converted to annual leave. If Mr Marchant did not use all his annual leave for any year, the unused element would be carried forward resulting in the accumulated balance which was paid. These working arrangements are not included in the contracts of any other officers.”