A council boss who hosted a lockdown party in her old government job is to be paid to remain off work indefinitely under a form of leave generally only given to staff dealing with life-altering situations such as the death of a child.
Kate Josephs, the chief executive of Sheffield City Council, hosted leaving drinks in December 2020 to toast the end of her previous job leading the government’s Covid-19 Taskforce.
A specially-formed committee at the Labour-run authority is now looking into the issue.
However, councillors have not suspended Josephs so she will be granted time off from her £190,000 post on fully-paid “discretionary” leave.
Such a form of absence, insiders say, tends to be reserved for employees experiencing traumatic personal events such as where the loss of a loved one is so devastating that statutory bereavement leave is not considered adequate.
Josephs could be away for far longer than originally envisaged because the council’s committee has suggested it will not report back until an investigation into Downing Street and Whitehall parties has been concluded by civil servant Sue Gray.
The idea that cash-strapped Sheffield City Council’s top boss could continue to draw her salary while out of action for such a period has been met with ire and incredulity in the city.
Lord Paul Scriven, a Lib Dem peer who led the authority between 2008 and 2011, said: “For such a senior person to be under investigation and not be suspended pending that investigation is highly unusual – especially given that police now appear to be looking into [the party she threw].
“Not suspending her suggests that senior councillors in Sheffield support the idea there is one rule for those at the top and one rule for ordinary Sheffielders, and that is not what we expectin a city that has honesty running through its vains.
“It is astonishing that someone who has brought the name of the city into disrepute can just continue in her employment as though nothing has happened. The bare minimum should be that she is suspended while the investigation takes place as most other people would be if serious allegations about their probity were brought forward.”
Josephs herself as declined to comment on the situation since she rushed out a statement minutes before the Daily Telegraph revealed she had hosted the party two weeks ago.
In that she said she was “truly sorry” but did not address suggestions at least 40 people from different government departments had been invited.
Sheffield City Council leader Terry Fox has refused to take questions on the issue but released a statement on Friday saying he “completely understand[s]” the anger in the city.
He added: “Over the last few days I have been taking advice, and we have now set up a politically proportionate cross-party committee to establish the facts of what has happened. While we cannot yet know how long it will take, we expect this to move at pace.”
Sheffeild City Council confirmed Ms Josephs hAd been granted "discretionary" leave but, when asked by The Independent, declined to say why it had felt this form of absence was appropriate.
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