Council under fire over new £825-a-day finance chief

PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 November 2014

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COUNCIL chiefs have come under fire this week over the 'gold-plated' appointment of a temporary head of finance - at a cost to taxpayers of £825 A DAY.

North Somerset Council is currently in the midst of an austerity drive on an unprecedented scale, with £92million of savings needed by 2018.

Yet within this culture of cost-cutting and service reductions, council leaders have sanctioned the appointment of an interim head of finance and property at a pro rata cost of £214,500.

Julie Alderson will take up the position next week, when current head Peter Sloman leaves for the Planning Inspectorate, and remain until March.

However, the huge cost, which includes agency fees and expenses, dwarfs the £84,010-91,290 salary band the full-time position is being advertised at – prompting stinging criticism 
from Mike Bell, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition.

He said: “It feels as though money is no object at North Somerset Council – at least when it comes to senior salaries.”

“The council has to make millions 
of pounds worth of savings over the 
coming years and it is extraordinary that they are making an appointment, albeit temporarily, at a salary double the going rate.

“The £214,500 pro rata salary sees the interim post holder earning more than the council chief executive and even the Prime Minister. What message does that send to staff and taxpayers?

“North Somerset taxpayers have a right to expect the Town Hall to look after their money. Instead we see them handing out gold-plated packages to temporary, agency staff. It’s simply not on.”

Mrs Alderson has a background of similar interim posts at other councils, and has attracted negative headlines in the past.

The Daily Express criticised her in 2011 for claiming £1,000 a month in expenses on top of £120,000-a-year wages at Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire. The Express said one £11.52 claim was made for lightbulbs at her luxury apartment, featuring swimming pool, gym and Jacuzzi.

During her time in Kirklees, Mrs Alderson was reportedly instrumental in a plan to save £80million by cutting 1,700 jobs.

North Somerset hopes, in the longer term, to save money by merging the formerly separate finance and property head roles.

However, it says the short-term appointment of an experienced finance chief was vital to see the authority through the budget-setting process in coming months.

A council response to Cllr Bell said: “We need an experienced finance (and property) professional to ensure we complete the budget and lead the finance and property functions, pending a permanent replacement.

“The new head of finance and property post has been advertised externally this week and we expect the successful candidate to start the end of March.

“As the interim has been engaged via an agency we are paying the agency, rather than direct employment costs.

“The agreed daily rate is £825 inclusive of agency fees and expenses. It works out about the same daily cost as the combined salaries, plus on-costs, of the two merged posts.”

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