The annual report of conciliation service Acas was delayed by six months because the auditor would not sign it off due to ‘irregular payments’ to staff, Personnel Today has learned.
The report is usually published around June, but last year was delayed until December. It has now emerged that the auditor-general of the House of Commons, who is responsible for preparing Acas’ financial statements, questioned six payments amounting to £56,000.
The payments were made to six employees in relation to the termination of their employment and “went beyond [payments] that Acas employees, or former employees, are contractually entitled to receive”, the auditor said.
Four of the payments were made to settle employment tribunal cases, the fifth concerned a payment linked to an early retirement case, and the last was part of a severance agreement.
Under government rules, these payouts required prior approval from the Treasury because they were classified as ‘special payments’, which are considered contentious because they exceed contractual remuneration.
Acas defended the payments, which it said were “sound economic and commercial sense”. However, the Treasury then refused to grant retrospective approval of the payments, and said they did not represent value for money.
An Acas spokeswoman said that the matter had been dealt with and that the service had taken steps to make sure it did not happen again.
Acas was the subject of a separate House of Commons select committee investigation recently, during which employers and unions praised its work in reducing the number of disputes that ended in employment tribunal cases.
However, there were warnings that cuts to Acas staff levels under the government’s efficiency re-view could lead to more tribunals in the future.
John Taylor, Acas chief executive, told the committee: “Very simply, we can’t lose 150 front-line staff and continue to supply the same kind of service.”
Additional reporting by Mark Crail, editor of Personnel Today’s sister publication IRS Employment Review.
Acas 30 years on
Conciliation service Acas celebrated its 30th anniversary in December.
It was formed in 1975 at the height of industrial disputes, with talks often continuing deep into the night, fuelled by beer and sandwiches.
Acas says it is now focused on educating, informing and training the UK’s employers and employees about good employment relations practice, with conciliation talks more likely to be carried out “over a pizza”.