Arlene Foster’s former special advisor gave his department a different explanation for his resignation than the one which he gave to the public – allowing him to get a £34,000 golden handshake, it can be revealed.
Last January Dr Crawford resigned just two days after the head of Mrs Foster’s former department said that he was aware of rumours that Dr Crawford worked to delay cost controls on ‘cash for ash’ as the RHI scheme was running out of control in summer 2015.
Dr Crawford strenuously rejected the allegation but appeared to be very clear that his resignation was linked to the claim.
In a statement published by the DUP press office at the time, Dr Crawford said: “In light of the allegations made at the Public Accounts Committee yesterday I believe it is appropriate that I step back from my position in government and resign as a special advisor. I am conscious I have become the focus of the story.”
Although the penultimate sentence of his resignation statement mentioned that “I will continue to offer my full support to the party and intend to campaign for the election of the strongest DUP representation in the next Assembly”, that was not the reason given for resigning.
However, the News Letter has obtained a copy of the resignation letter which Dr Crawford submitted to his then department and it makes no mention of the allegations against him.
When Mrs Foster became first minister in January 2016, Dr Crawford had not remained as her Spad and by the time of his resignation he was working as Spad to DUP agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen.
In a letter which is among correspondence released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, Dr Crawford wrote to her – and copied to the department’s permanent secretary, Noel Lavery – on the same day as his public statement.
He said: “As you are aware a Northern Ireland Assembly election has been called for the 2 March and I intend to help the party in the Assembly election campaign ... I tender my resignation with effect from today.”
Last night a DUP spokesman said: “Andrew Crawford’s statement on January 19 2017 and resignation letter are completely consistent.”
It can also be revealed that the day before the allegations about him were made public Dr Crawford asked for clarification about how much money he would get if he left the department. On January 16 a civil servant emailed a colleague to say: “Andrew Crawford has asked to be made aware of the conditions of his potential redundancy. Specific queries he raised included ... is he entitled to three or six months pay?”
There appears to have been debate among some of those involved in the process as to whether it was right to pay Dr Crawford the money.
An individual, whose name has been redacted but who appears to have been from HR Connect, emailed DAERA officials on January 20 2017 with an extract from the Spad code which he said “states clearly in bold at 19.5 below that a special advisor who resigns for reasons other than specified in section 19 does not qualify for severance payments”.
Perhaps mindful of what Dr Crawford was saying publicly about the reasons for his resignation and how it was being reported, the individual highlighted in bold the section which said that if he resigned for any other reason he would not receive a lump sum.
It appears that this advice was initially accepted by the department. Seven minutes later, an official, whose name has been redacted, forwarded that email to a colleague – who had been asking for urgent clarification on whether there should be severance pay – and asked “is this sufficient information?”.
The email then went on to apparently indicate that at that point officials had agreed that there should be no severance for the Spad. The email said: “I have discussed this with [name redacted] this morning and he has agreed that this is the appropriate approach with his G5 [Grade 5 official]. Happy to discuss – and CHR [Corporate HR] have advised that should there be any query on this position they are happy to discuss it directly with Spad if appropriate.”
However, a January 25 email from the department’s assistant director of HR said: “Permanent Secretary [Noel Lavery] has confirmed verbally with the minister that Andrew Crawford is now working for the DUP on the forthcoming election campaign. On that basis the terms of the code governing the appointment of special advisors have been met and entitlement to severance payment has been established. Can you therefore instruct HRConnect to calculate and make the severance payment.”
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) assistant HR director did not want some of the correspondence recorded electronically, perhaps mindful that it could be made public.
The official – whose name the department has withheld – sent an email to a colleague on January 20 2017 to thank them for their “helpful intervention”. The civil servant said that they had discussed the issue of a letter to be sent to Dr Crawford and added cryptically: “I have outlined the content of the letter to you which should be sufficient to proceed but I do not intend rehearsing it by email ... there has been significant media interest in anything associated with current events and for that reason I would like the resignation letter restricted and details of payments to be made etc limited on email.” That email was sent in response to another official who said there was “the potential that he will be overpaid”.