Waverley’s back-office merger with Guildford Borough Council resulted in the managing director of Guildford Borough Council receiving the highest remuneration of any council employee in the country last year.

James Whiteman, 57, received a huge £607,633 pay package after taking voluntary redundancy from Guildford Borough Council, where he had been managing director, in 2021 following Guildford’s merger with Waverley.

This included a ‘termination payment’ of £154,240, benefits totalling £5,688 and pension contributions of £339,158.

Guildford Borough Council has since confirmed Waverley taxpayers stumped up 50 per cent of the £154,240 one-off payment, despite the managing director not being an employee of Waverley Borough Council.

Waverley, which hiked council tax by the maximum-allowed 2.99 per cent in April, says the merger of the two councils’ management teams will save taxpayers money in the long-run. But the leader of Waverley’s Conservative opposition, Cllr Stephen Mulliner, has questioned the potential savings of the “rushed through” merger claimed by Waverley’s Lib Dem-led coalition – and this week said Mr Whiteman’s payout is another example of Waverley ‘losing out’.

Cllr Mulliner said: “The fact that Waverley’s council tax payers had to foot half the bill for Guildford’s golden goodbye to its managing director is another example of Waverley losing out in the poorly thought-through merger with Guildford which was rushed through by the current Lib Dem-led administration.

“Waverley Borough Council should be standing up for residents here in Waverley who do not want to see their council tax going up the road to Guildford rather than supporting our own communities and local businesses.”

But Paul Follows, Waverley’s Lib Dem leader, hit back – saying the payout has unlocked more than £400,000 of annual savings for Waverley.

Cllr Follows, who is standing for re-election in Godalming Central and is expected to stand against Jeremy Hunt at next year’s general election, said: “As the Conservatives are fully aware, collaboration with Guildford required PART of the redundancy cost to be shared between the two councils but NOT the pension and other costs which were borne exclusively by Guildford Borough Council as contractual requirement. This was to enable the overall cost-saving exercise of a shared, joint chief executive for both councils.

“The collaboration has unlocked more than £400,000 of annual savings for Waverley, which is likely to rise to over £700,000 annually in due course. These are savings which have prevented service cuts and have kept us financially stable despite the absence of long-term central government support.

“The local Conservatives have offered no alternatives at any time despite continued opposition to our successful attempts to stabilise council finances following their previous stint at running the council before 2019. They even attempted to seek a similar arrangement to this in the past but failed to achieve it or any savings.

“The Conservatives have decided to compound their own recent local and national irresponsibility when it comes to finances by misrepresenting a contractual requirement regarding a former member of staff at Guildford as a choice of either council. Many of these policies at Guildford in terms of staff contracts will have been set during the period of Conservative control in Guildford which cannot just be set aside. The end result of the action taken at both councils has been annual, recurring savings in the public interest.”

A Waverley Borough Council spokesman said: “In 2021, Guildford and Waverley borough councils agreed to work together to cut costs and help protect local services for residents. Both councils agreed to have one Joint Management Team, which costs Waverley Borough Council £438,000 less per year than previously.

“Both councils, in full council meetings, agreed how any one-off costs would be shared. This included sharing the costs of termination of those Waverley and Guildford employees whose roles were made redundant through the process and who did not continue to be employed, because both councils benefit from the resulting annual financial savings.”