Fury over £220k council chief

THE District Auditor may intervene over the appointment of the new chief executive for Suffolk County Council after the salary package was upped by £70,000 immediately after her recruitment.

Graham Dines

THE District Auditor may intervene over the appointment of the new chief executive for Suffolk County Council after the salary package was upped by £70,000 immediately after her recruitment.

By 37 votes to 31, with one abstention, councillors last night approved the appointment of Andrea Hill to take charge as head of the paid staff on a wage of up to £220,000.

This is more than 40% higher than the pay of Mike More, the current chief executive who is leaving Suffolk to join the London borough of the City of Westminster.

Opposition councillors accused the ruling Tory group of breaking the council's own procedures by increasing the salary on offer to Mrs Hill - the chief executive of Bedfordshire County Council - after she had been appointed.

The threat of asking the District Auditor to look into the way Mrs Hill was selected was made by Labour's Harold Mangar, who said the process which led to the salary package being increased should be subject to outside scrutiny.

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It is the Auditor's responsibility to clear the authority's accounts and he has the power to intervene and question decisions which are either not value for money or which have not been arrived at transparently.

Leading the opposition, Labour's Julian Swainson said he was not making a judgement on Mrs Hill's suitability but the way the increased salary package was reached.

“This is the first time that there has been no consensus over a top appointment,” he said. “It is the most secretive recruitment process I have ever seen at Suffolk County Council.”

He said if the higher salary had been advertised from the start, there might have been other candidates attracted to the job.

“The council could cease to exist in two years' time,” he continued. “We have huge talent and skill available at director level - one of them would have been more than capable of taking the county through reorganisation.

“We could have found a chief executive on the existing pay and reward scale and that is my belief.”

Liberal Democrat leader Kathy Pollard, who as a member of the selection panel had abstained after the interview stage, said of the £220,000 controversy: “This has done a huge amount of damage to the reputation of Suffolk County Council, which is being dragged through the mud.”

Tory rebel Russell Harsant said it was “quite bizarre” for the council to appoint a chief executive when the future of local government was in doubt.

However other Conservative councillors backed Mrs Hill's appointment and salary package.

Charles Michell said: “The central issue is: have we found the best person for the job? Yes we have and she will drive forward our modernisation agenda.

“We have to ensure that we act for the benefit of the taxpayers and residents of the county ­- we can't leave the post unfilled. If we have to pay thousands of pounds to save millions, so be it. Whatever we pay may be cheap at the price.”

Council deputy leader Jane Storey said: “We cannot do without a chief executive. To not appoint would be to destabilise this county council. Executive directors have enough to do without taking on the additional role of acting chief executive.

“To appoint an interim chief executive until we know the outcome of the Boundary Committee review could cost us a lot more that Mrs Hill's salary - it could be £1,000 a day and the person would have no loyalty to Suffolk.”

However Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance which has compiled a “Rich List” of top earners among UK council staff, said: “The hundreds of senior officials on the list are paid extremely high salaries, but Andrea Hill's salary is in another league.

“With council tax bills running at record levels and services still apparently strapped for cash, it is shocking that the council is spending so much of taxpayers' money on one staff member.”

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