Tories split as Hill row escalates

CONSERVATIVES on a Suffolk district council group haves launched a withering attack on the “irresponsibility” of county colleagues in appointing Andrea Hill their £220,000 chief executive when the job could disappear within two years.

Graham Dines

CONSERVATIVES on a Suffolk district council group haves launched a withering attack on the “irresponsibility” of county colleagues in appointing Andrea Hill their £220,000 chief executive when the job could disappear within two years.

At the same time, it has emerged that Mrs Hill was appointed Suffolk's assistant chief executive in 1998, only to have the job offer withdrawn just hours later.

The onslaught from Ipswich Conservatives comes amid fears that they will suffer an electoral backlash at next month's elections to the borough council, even though they had no part to play in the controversial appointment.

It exposes a massive split in the party at local government level at a time when the Boundary Committee for England is consulting on plans to replace Suffolk's county and district councils with up to three unitary authorities,

Elizabeth Harsant, Ipswich council's leader, said the borough Tories had been “reluctant” to criticise county councillors publicly, and had lobbied county council leader Jeremy Pembroke to fill the vacancy caused by decision to Mike More to take the top job at Westminster city council.

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“However, we are shocked and astounded that the County has chosen to drive this appointment through at a time of economic downturn, and against such strong opposition from the public,” says Mrs Harsant, whose county councillor husband Russell was one of only two Tories to vote against Mrs Hill

“In Ipswich Conservatives' view, there is no justification for this appointment when the Boundary Committee is reviewing unitary options across the County, and there are highly qualified and well respected Directors at the County who could well have taken on this role as an interim measure,” says Mrs Harsant.

“The decision to make the appointment is irresponsible and a slap in the face for all hard working local council taxpayers, who can only dream of such high salaries, when many are losing their jobs and suffering rising taxes and household bills.”

Mr Pembroke denied he had been approached by Ipswich Tories. He was adamant that the appointment was the correct one because at a difficult time for both the county council and the economy, Suffolk and Ipswich needed “strong leadership” which Mrs Hill would provide.

Mrs Hill, who begins work on April 21, was appointed on a pay scale up to £70,000 more than the former chief executive. In 1998, when Labour and Liberal Democrats were in charge of the county council, she was interviewed for and offered the job of assistant to the then newly appointed chief executive Lin Homer.

However, within hours the offer was withdrawn. Mrs Homer, the then council PRO Rachel Stopard, and Mrs Hill had worked together at Hertfordshire county council and Peter Monk, the Lib Dem who headed the interview panel, said today that “a clash of personalities” had been identified.

A Suffolk spokesman refused to confirm details, adding: “We never discuss candidates for jobs.”

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