One of the most senior officials at Scotland’s largest council has walked away with a deal worth more than £90,000 and become a consultant for a firm the authority gave a controversial multi-million pound IT contract to.
Solicitor Carole Forrest, 52, was the director of governance and in effect the deputy to chief executive Annemarie O’Donnell at Glasgow City Council, leaving her post in April of this year after almost 30 years with the local authority.
The Herald understands that she received the figure of £95,000 as a voluntary redundancy package but then landed a consultancy role with Canadian IT and business consulting firm CGI which has bases across Scotland including in Glasgow.
In 2017 Glasgow City Council signed a seven-year deal with CGI said to be worth around £350million to transform their digital services but there was criticism over the procurement process.
In April, Ms Forrest became the sole director of Consulting CF Ltd specialising in information technology consultancy, according to a listing with Companies House. And CGI confirmed she now has a consultancy role with them.
Opposition councillors questioned the timing of the consultancy and are seeking answers. Conservative Councillor Kyle Thornton said even the perception of a conflict of interest in this regard is highly damaging for public trust.
In response to Freedom of Information requests, the council hid behind data protection and exemptions with some of their answers.
While they confirmed that one senior officer had taken a redundancy deal in the past six months, they would not directly confirm the name.
When asked about the council’s knowledge of senior officers who had left in the same period that had a future position arranged and with whom, they said they did not hold this information.
In a response they told The Herald: “We believe that the information that you have requested is exempt from release under section 38(1)(b) of the 2002 Act. This means that disclosure of the information would involve releasing personal information about senior members of staff. Release of this information would breach the Data Protection Principles contained within Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation. These require us to process personal information in a lawful, fair and transparent manner.
“The members of staff concerned would not expect their personal details to be released in response to an FOI request due to them no longer working for Glasgow City Council. In our opinion, it would be unfair to the individuals concerned for such information to be released into the public domain.”
They applied this to requests for information on how much was paid out, but said the senior official had worked their notice period and that there was no enhanced deal. It is The Herald’s understanding that given her six figure salary and years of service, she received £95,000.
During her time with the local authority, Ms Forrest helped guide the council through the long running equal pay episode with a series of court cases and then a final settlement reached with unions and claimants’ lawyers.
Her post wasn’t filled but a restructure took place. When news of her departure was revealed earlier this year, Council leader, Councillor Susan Aitken described her contribution to the city over nearly three decades has been formidable – and never more so than in overseeing the settlement of Glasgow’s responsibilities on equal pay.
The multi-million IT contract was hailed as being one that would transform education and digital services across the city.
It was he council’s Executive Committee who agreed to pursue the deal with the firm that at that time was already providing services to the City of Edinburgh and Scottish Borders councils, as well as the Scottish Government.
Commenting at the time on the CGI deal, Annemarie O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Glasgow City Council, said: “We have an opportunity to completely redesign how we use technology to improve the lives of all Glaswegians. From world-class digital learning in our schools, to protecting the health of our most vulnerable citizens – we need to innovate and be ready to embrace opportunities to use technology creatively to deliver for the city.”
But the deal was shrouded in controversy. A legal challenge was lodged by global services giant Serco which had been providing the council’s IT in a joint venture with the authority. They had contested the deal with CGI and said the legal move was due to the contract not being put out to tender. It was resolved with an agreement under which the council would take on Serco’s membership of the Access joint venture.
The CGI deal went through in 2017 coming into effect in April the following year.
Cllr Kyle Thornton, the Conservative Group Business Manager, questioned the timing and the financial package.
He said: “At a time when Glasgow has never looked more neglected by the Council, it is understandable why questions would be raised over Council officers receiving eye-watering exit packages.
“In this case it is especially concerning that a former senior officer has been made a consultant to one of the Council’s largest contractors so soon after leaving the Council with a generous settlement.
“Even the perception of a conflict of interest in this regard is highly damaging for public trust and we urge the relevant parties to assuage those concerns at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Cllr Jon Molyneux, of the Scottish Greens, said they are seeking more information on the issue.
He said: “We have asked the Council’s chief executive if she has any more information on this matter. Clearly Ms Forrest is no longer a Council employee, so can manage her own affairs, but ‘revolving door’ arrangements such as these do raise eyebrows and should be looked at.”
A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “Mrs Forrest left the council earlier this year, having taken voluntary redundancy, and is not working on the Glasgow City Council account.”
Ms Forrest did not wish to make a comment, while a spokesman for CGI said: “Carole Forrest has been providing ad-hoc consultancy services to CGI since May 2021, after she left Glasgow City Council. She brings a wealth of expertise and knowledge to CGI and is advising us on member development and business plan growth in both the public and private sector. Carole has no involvement in the Glasgow City Council account.”