County defends £81k appointment

SUFFOLK County Council faced fresh criticism over use of taxpayers' money last night after it appointed a new spin doctor on £81,000 a year.

Russell Claydon

SUFFOLK County Council faced fresh criticism over use of taxpayers' money last night after it appointed a new spin doctor on £81,000 a year.

The salary for the authority's new head of communications was advertised to be in the £66,468 to £81,824 pay band - and Caryl Jackson will join at the very top end of that.

Last night an opposition group said it was a kick in the teeth to taxpayers amid a series of service cutbacks and higher charges, but council leader Jeremy Pembroke defended the salary saying it was no increase on the previous occupant's.

The news comes just months after the authority, which could be abolished in a local government shake-up in two years, faced severe criticism after new chief executive Andrea Hill was appointed on a salary of around £220,000.

Ms Jackson, former head of communications at Glasgow City Council, replaces former council communications chief Francis Thomas.

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Reacting to the appointment, Kathy Pollard, leader of the Suffolk Liberal Democrats said she was “appalled” by the top end salary.

“We have been against the appointment from the start and boycotted the process,” she said. “I think council tax payers will be pretty appalled.

“Here is the county council cutting services, putting up charges and paying staff what the public sees as vast sums of money.”

Leader of the council, Jeremy Pembroke, who was chairman of the appointment panel, said: “The pay scale is complicit with the previous occupant of the post and we have not altered it. It is not an increase - the band is exactly the same.”

He said Ms Jackson had a very good track record and will be a good appointment.

“I'm delighted we have been able to appoint such an outstanding candidate. She very much impressed the panel, not least because of her experience in running the communications department in Britain's third largest city, as well as at the Local Government Information Unit in London.

“There are major challenges facing local government in Suffolk over the next few years, and Caryl is exceptionally well-qualified to explain to residents how we will continue to provide excellent services to local people.”

Cllr Julian Swainson, leader of the Labour Group, who was on the interviewing panel, said he was pleased the salary kept within the bracket the council had set at the start of the appointment process.

“I think learning from the experience of the chief executive they were very careful with the process,” he said. “There was no last minute salary changes or bidding and this salary was within the banding set.”

He added: “I am pleased they learned their lesson and I am happy to agree she (Ms Jackson) was the best candidate for the post.”

Ms Jackson has lived in Kingston, Jamaica over the last two years, doing voluntary work while studying for a PhD in communications and marketing.

She said: “I am flattered and delighted to be offered this great privilege to work on behalf of the people of this lovely county.

“Because Suffolk's local government structures are likely to change significantly, there is a massive job of work to do to engage people in the consequent changes that will affect all our lives.

“I know that we have an excellent basis here to build from, and I look forward to starting as soon as I can.”