Hill appointment 'potentially unlawful'

THE District Auditor has said the appointment of Andrea Hill as Suffolk county council chief executive on a salary of £220,000 was “potentially unlawful” - but has decided that it would not be in the public interest to surcharge the three councillors who took the decision.

Graham Dines

THE District Auditor has said the appointment of Andrea Hill as Suffolk county council chief executive on a salary of £220,000 was “potentially unlawful” - but has decided that it would not be in the public interest to surcharge the three councillors who took the decision.

After investigating the events leading up to the new salary, District Auditor Robert Davies has ruled while all the relevant information was not available to the appointments panel, “it is unlikely that the eventual decision would have been different” if all the facts on regarding the appointment had been known.

Mrs Hill was given the top job on the county council on a salary band which was up to £70,000 than her predecessor. The job was regarded after the appointments panel appointed her to a job which could disappear in under two years through local government unitary reorganisation in Suffolk.

In a report to the council, the District Auditor has called for improvements to the recruitment and appointments process to comply with the county's policies and procedures and to improve the information given to those who make the appointment.

Immediately after Mrs Hill was appointed, the three Tory members - leader Jeremy Pembroke, his deputy Jane Story, and cabinet member Graham Newman - voted to increase the salary which had been offered. Labour's Julian Swainson and Liberal Democrat Kathy Pollard refused to back the regrading.

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“In my view, the areas for improvement identified do not mean that the appointment process was fundamentally flawed or that unlawful decisions were made,” says Mr Davies.

“While the decision to increase the top of the salary band for the chief executive post may be considered by others to be generous, it is not my role as auditor to substitute my judgement for than of an elected body in the lawful exercise of its discretion.

“It is for the council to determine the salary level for its chief executive and, based on comparative information from, elsewhere, the revised maximum salary range is not so high as to be considered unreasonable.”

Mr Davies has issued one caveat to his decision - “While I am not minded to exercise any of my specific powers at this stage, I cannot fetter my discretion should further information come to my attention or should there be a subsequent by a local elector.”

The report will be scrutinised by the county's cross-party audit committee on May 20. Mrs Storey said: “I am pleased with the outcome of the District Auditor's report. While the author recommends some improvements, his conclusion that the council had had a robust and thorough selection process in place to meet its stated objective of securing the best candidate for the chief executive post and his comments on the salary level confirm that the process was properly run.”

The Labour and Lib Dems groups said the report condemned the way decisions were being taken by the Tory administration. Mr Swainson said the auditor had found that the appointment process “was flawed” and Mrs Pollard was a “shocking example” of how secretive the administration had become.

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