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Suffolk: Chief executive Andrea Hill’s message in council newsletter

PUBLISHED: 12:34 04 April 2011 | UPDATED: 17:13 04 April 2011

Andrea Hill

Andrea Hill

Archant

Today The Evening Star is printing in full the two-page article by Suffolk’s chief executive Andrea Hill in the county council’s April newsletter.

Below The Star has asked 15 questions related to various parts of her article. We have pulled out sections of the newsletter and printed the relevant question underneath.

Andrea Hill:

I’m quite sure you will have seen some of the media coverage about me recently. As it’s becoming almost a daily ritual, it’s hard to miss. I don’t usually comment upon it, but it’s got to such a level that I think as my colleagues you deserve to know what’s going on.

My family and I used to enjoy reading the newspapers – I’ve always thought that our papers are a great British institution. But once you’ve featured in them you realise how much of the copy is not true. My husband and children have all been aghast at how misleading the articles are. The journalists who write the stories don’t actually interview me: many of them have never met me, spoken to me or even asked for a comment. The content is sourced from other newspaper stories (all now conveniently recorded on the internet rather than being tomorrow’s chip paper). I fundamentally believe in a free press – a voice that can tell us as citizens what is actually going on. I value that as much as I value public service. At the core of that value is a belief that what we read and watch is truthful, factual, accurate and ethically investigated.

In my view we are, as a British public, in danger of damaging the very institutions we believe in. We have long upheld a trust in public institutions – including government and public services – but over the past 3 years there has been an assault on many of those institutions and people who take prominent roles in leading them. The media have now created their own agenda around this. And there are seemingly many people happy to feed that agenda.

I am proud to be a public servant: like many of you, that’s what I’ve chosen to do for my whole career. But does being a public servant mean the media have a right to trespass on my property; photograph my family home and say where I live; pressure my neighbours into talking about me; ring up people who hardly know me in an attempt to dredge up a story; file almost daily FOIs in the hope of finding some new story. That’s what my life has become. Is it right Janet Street Porter can call me “this repulsive woman” when she has never met me. Does being a public servant mean it’s OK for your children to be bullied, for your friends to be pestered and for your PA to be shouted at over the phone. People who are successful at work should be held up as role models to help our young people in Suffolk aspire to success. But it seems that some would prefer to engage in the politics of envy – to such an extent that there are now websites calling for people to carry out acts of extreme violence against me and to follow me home. That’s why it’s so scary that a national newspaper has published photos of my home. Is that what we want for our public servants – it’s certainly not what I expected in coming to Suffolk.

People ask me why I seek a media profile – I don’t. It took a whole year of pressure for me to agree to give one local TV and one radio interview.

People ask me why I don’t fight back. That’s a tricky one: if a national or local politician decides to say things about me to a reporter, protocol prevents me from commenting. It would be extremely unprofessional and unethical for me to engage in a public argument with a politician. I am genuinely sorry that this can then appear as though the politician’s view is correct – sometimes it’s just a view. And of course the politicians know I can’t comment back because it’s against the Council’s Code of Conduct. I have complained to local newspaper editors, and to the BBC, to Radio Suffolk and to the Daily Mail. I have had some apologies from local editors (I only ever ask for them to be private, not published). The coverage continues unabated.

Some people say all this comment about me – what I’m paid, how I look, how I dress is a distraction. I agree: it is. But it’s a distraction being created by the media – and particularly by the newspapers – it’s very convenient for them to target me rather than address the serious issues of how we are going to ensure quality public services with much less public funding. That’s the serious debate that I would love our media – both local and national to lead. Rather than sensationalist reporting that taps into people’s fear that the welfare state is being dismantled, let us have a reasoned debate about the power of social enterprises and communities to create new forms of public services; the need for much greater social investment funding; and a possible new relationship between local and national government that gives local places a different financial settlement focused on local economic growth.

Let’s be clear, Suffolk County Council is now at the leading edge of new thinking in the public sector. We have an inspiring and bold Cabinet who have placed us there. It’s not an easy or comfortable place to be because we are challenging the old ways of doing things; we are developing a new model that will unsettle the status quo and, as we all know, any changes makes ordinary people uncertain. Changing the system also challenges vested interests and will therefore be attacked. That’s partially why I’m getting so much focus and now why Jeremy Pembroke, the most honest, visionary, trustworthy politician I have ever worked with, is, in my view, being unfairly attacked by a local newspaper. But we also have advocates and supporters both in central government, and local government, who are looking to Suffolk as a future role model. You won’t see them in the media – and you might well ask why – but be sure they exist.

So let me tell you the truth about the recent stories: those ‘vanity’ photographs; my training; the trips to America with BT.

I didn’t spend £1,500 of taxpayers money on photographs of myself. The Council did pay a photographer for several photographic assignments, but the portraits cost £900 and were for 17 different people. So the per capita cost was £53 and they weren’t shot in a studio as some of the papers have claimed, but in the corridors of Endeavour House. And they were taken on 25 June 2009 at a time when we weren’t having to cut services. The Council has a licence to publish them so we don’t have to pay the photographer to use them.

So what’s the story about my training? The Council has spent £12,075 + VAT on coaching for me over the past 3 years. This training has been agreed with councillors are part of my annual appraisal and I have found it incredibly helpful in helping me do a tough job in a complex environment. Sol, my coach, isn’t a ‘lifestyle guru’ as the papers claim.

Despite what the Daily Telegraph reports, I didn’t “convince voters to pay £400,000 for her psychology sessions”. The fact behind the story is that the Council spent £400,000 on leadership training for over 400 staff over 2 years before any spending cuts were being considered. And many of those 400 people have thanked me, on behalf of the Council, because the training was the best they had ever received. Ask them if they thought it was ‘psychobabble’ as the newspapers like to print – I can assure you Paul McKenna was nowhere in sight.

So what about the two trips to America with BT have they compromised my judgement? In 2008 I did go to both Boston and San Francisco as part of a training programme sponsored by BT. So did 30 other public sector Chief Executives. So too did my predecessor a few years before me and so too have 4 other council Chief Executives or Chief Constables from Suffolk. Not a penny of my trip was funded by taxpayers - not the course, or flights, or hotels, or mileage, or meals or even a cup of coffee. And yes my husband and one of my sons came to join me one weekend – at my personal expense, not charged to BT, not charged to the taxpayer. Has it clouded my judgement in relation to BT? No it hasn’t: I have just negotiated £4m of efficiencies and cost reductions in our contract charge this year.

And what about how I got the job? Some of the reporting seems to imply something underhand happened. I have no idea why. I applied for the job in open competition – anyone in the country with the right qualifications and experience could have applied. I was interviewed and tested as were other candidates. I won the job fairly.

Last month Will Hutton published the results of the Independent Review of Chief Executives’ pay commissioned by the government.

His key findings were:

Chief Executives in the public sector do demanding and unpopular jobs in a very complex environment. Jobs of the same complexity in the private sector would pay twice as much.

Chief Executives pay should not be compared to the Prime Minister’s salary as it’s not relevant.

Public sector Chief Executives’ pay should not be capped.

If we want good public sector services then as taxpayers we need to pay good salaries to public sector Chief Executives to attract people of sufficient calibre to do these jobs.

The government’s own guidelines are that local government Chief Executives should not earn more than 20 times the lowest paid employee. I don’t. I have also voluntarily – and quietly – given up my annual pay award and my performance increments for two years running (before the Council decided to stop increments). I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do not because of media pressure.

So I’m going to get on with the job of finding how best to ensure Suffolk people get the best public services they can when there is less public funding. I’m going to keep on challenging the old way of doing things when monitoring and inspection cost Suffolk councils nearly £6m in 2009. I’m going to explore new avenues for extra social investment in Suffolk, encourage new and exciting Suffolk enterprises to help deliver public services. I’m going to challenge process and bureaucracy that doesn’t help our customers and find ways to help you deliver really relevant, tailored, public services (whether that’s inside or outside the Council). I’m going to support and lead you in helping to challenge the past culture of public services and duplication between organisations. I’m going to help us create a simpler more flexible council that really listens and works alongside communities to give them more control over council services. And I’m going to find a way to reduce the cost of our overheads for Suffolk taxpayers. That’s what the New Strategic Direction is all about. I believe in it and I’m going to give it my energy, intellect and hard work. That’s what I am paid for.

 

 

Today The Evening Star’s Editor, Nigel Pickover, prints some of the key points made by Mrs Hill - and we have asked 15 key questions alongside her words.

My family and I used to enjoy reading the newspapers – I’ve always thought that our papers are a great British institution. But once you’ve featured in them you realise how much of the copy is not true.

1) Evening Star – please will you tell us which Evening Star articles have contained any inaccuracies? It is our policy to correct any errors forthwith.

My husband and children have all been aghast at how misleading the articles are. The journalists who write the stories don’t actually interview me: many of them have never met me, spoken to me or even asked for a comment. The content is sourced from other newspaper stories (all now conveniently recorded on the internet rather than being tomorrow’s chip paper). I fundamentally believe in a free press – a voice that can tell us as citizens what is actually going on.

2) Evening Star – we are grateful for your belief in a free Press, do you know we ask for comment from your press officers on every story written about you? Did you know our reporter Paul Geater was at one point banned from getting comment from the council? And will you please consider an interview with our political writer as soon as possible?

I value that as much as I value public service. At the core of that value is a belief that what we read and watch is truthful, factual, accurate and ethically investigated.

3) Evening Star – what in our columns has not been truthful, factual, accurate and ethically investigated?

In my view we are, as a British public, in danger of damaging the very institutions we believe in. We have long upheld a trust in public institutions – including government and public services – but over the past three years there has been an assault on many of those institutions and people who take prominent roles in leading them. The media have now created their own agenda around this. And there are seemingly many people happy to feed that agenda.

4) Evening Star – you discuss “damaging institutions we believe in” – do you think rural bus services, library and lollipop services are institutions we should believe in?

I am proud to be a public servant: like many of you, that’s what I’ve chosen to do for my whole career. But does being a public servant mean the media have a right to trespass on my property; photograph my family home and say where I live; pressure my neighbours into talking about me; ring up people who hardly know me in an attempt to dredge up a story; file almost daily FOIs in the hope of finding some new story. That’s what my life has become.

5) Evening Star – you lump the media together, we at The Star are not connected to national newspapers or TV stations, will you provide details of anything you are accusing journalists of? Have you reported your concerns to the Press Complaints Commission?

6) Evening Star - On Freedom of Information questions – what is worrying you about FoI’s? If the information isn’t there, nothing will be printed.

Is it right Janet Street Porter can call me “this repulsive woman” when she has never met me. Does being a public servant mean it’s OK for your children to be bullied, for your friends to be pestered and for your PA to be shouted at over the phone.

7) Evening Star – Have you taken your complaint up with Janet Street Porter?

People who are successful at work should be held up as role models to help our young people in Suffolk aspire to success.

8) Evening Star – Are you saying you are successful at work? What measure do you judge success on, cost cutting for example?

It seems that some would prefer to engage in the politics of envy – to such an extent that there are now websites calling for people to carry out acts of extreme violence against me and to follow me home. That’s why it’s so scary that a national newspaper has published photos of my home. Is that what we want for our public servants – it’s certainly not what I expected in coming to Suffolk.

9) Evening Star – We have checked with Suffolk Constabulary – and they say they investigated one comment on one website and that you were content with their advice. Can you tell us is there is any other force you have complained to? Is there anything amiss with The Evening Star’s website?

Changing the system also challenges vested interests and will therefore be attacked. That’s partially why I’m getting so much focus and now why Jeremy Pembroke, the most honest, visionary, trustworthy politician I have ever worked with, is, in my view, being unfairly attacked by a local newspaper.

10) Evening Star – are you referring to an alleged attack by The Evening Star? If so, can you tell us what was unfair, given that Mr Pembroke was given full chance to comment? Why haven’t you complained about the article and why hasn’t Mr Pembroke?

So let me tell you the truth about the recent stories: those ‘vanity’ photographs; my training; the trips to America with BT. I didn’t spend £1,500 of taxpayers money on photographs of myself. The Council did pay a photographer for several photographic assignments, but the portraits cost £900 and were for 17 different people.

11) Evening Star – In an Evening Star Freedom of Information series of requests, the last reply from SCC indicated £1,474 was spent on photographs of you. Was this an error and did you investigate how it had been made? Why was this amount spent on pictures, including the set of 40 of yourself, with an out-of-county photographer and not a local person who might have been substantially cheaper?

So what’s the story about my training? The Council has spent £12,075 + VAT on coaching for me over the past three years. This training has been agreed with councillors, are part of my annual appraisal and I have found it incredibly helpful in helping me do a tough job in a complex environment. Sol, my coach, isn’t a ‘lifestyle guru’ as the papers claim.

12) Evening Star – what do you say to those who believe that 23 coaching sessions with “Sol” should not have been needed by a vastly-experienced chief officer and the money could have been saved?

Despite what the Daily Telegraph reports, I didn’t “convince voters to pay £400,000 for her psychology sessions”. The fact behind the story is that the Council spent £400,000 on leadership training for over 400 staff over two years before any spending cuts were being considered.

13) Evening Star – Did you complain to The Daily Telegraph about this?

So what about the two trips to America with BT have they compromised my judgement? In 2008 I did go to both Boston and San Francisco as part of a training programme sponsored by BT. So did 30 other public sector Chief Executives. So too did my predecessor a few years before me and so too have four other council Chief Executives or Chief Constables from Suffolk.

14) Evening Star – Given the BT contract why didn’t you disassociate yourself from BT and pay the bill yourself – or via agreement with Suffolk County Council?

Not a penny of my trip was funded by taxpayers – not the course, or flights, or hotels, or mileage, or meals or even a cup of coffee. And yes my husband and one of my sons came to join me one weekend – at my personal expense, not charged to BT, not charged to the taxpayer. Has it clouded my judgement in relation to BT? Why No it hasn’t: I have just negotiated £4m of efficiencies and cost reductions in our contract charge this year.

15) Evening Star – Why has there been internal and external disquiet about the BT relationship – and has anyone left the council because of this?

Comments have been disabled on this article.

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