District auditor to monitor Suffolk

COUNTY chiefs are today setting about making changes to their recruitment procedures following a report by watchdogs over the controversial appointment of £220,000 chief executive Andrea Hill.

COUNTY chiefs are today setting about making changes to their recruitment procedures following a report by watchdogs over the controversial appointment of £220,000 chief executive Andrea Hill.

A probe was launched amid huge public outcry at the size of the salary, £70,000 more than previous chief executive Mike More earned, and concerns that rules had been broken in the way the package was beefed up.

In a report that went before Suffolk County Council's audit committee yesterday, the District Auditor called for improvements to the recruitment and appointments process to comply with the county's policies and procedures.

Speaking to The Evening Star after the meeting, District Auditor Robert Davies said this was the first occasion he had probed such an issue.

He added that he had no power to rule on the decision to pay 44-year-old Mrs Hill a whopping £220,000 unless the salary was so high as to be judged “irrational”.

“Voters may consider that salary range to be high but in my judgement it is not so high that it is unreasonable,” he said.

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Mr Davies added that he will continue to “evaluate” the council's progress on how it reforms its procedures.

He said: “In my view the areas for improvement I identify do not mean the process was fundamentally flawed or unlawful.

“Only a court can ultimately decide whether something is unlawful but in my view that is not a course that should be initiated.”

He added there were areas for improvement.

“The process could have been better run with better information provided at times,” he said.

“As a result of the policies the council followed and the deficiencies identified, it makes it difficult for the council to demonstrate value for money was given sufficient consideration.”

Kevan Lim, deputy leader of the Labour group, speaking at the meeting, described the situation as “the most incompetent use of taxpayers' money” he had seen in his life.

Tory councillor Charles Michell said: “Although there were deficiencies here, it did not mean there was a fundamental breach of any of the policies of the council.”

Councillors voted to accept the report and put in place the recommendations made with progress set to be reviewed in three months' time.

Do you still have concerns about the way in which Mrs Hill was appointed? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

DESPITE the claims from Endeavour House, the report from the district auditor is not a vindication of the county council's decision-making process.

He had some serious concerns about how the decision was made and told councillors to tighten up their procedures.

He will now be watching councillors like a hawk to ensure that they act correctly when dealing with large amounts of public money - the first time the county has been put under such scrutiny.

What continues to worry us is this: if senior county council politicians can get it so wrong on this, what faith can we have in their other decisions?

Andrea Hill now faces mission impossible and we have a suggestion for her.

Why doesn't she make a bold and innovative move ... agreeing with her out-of-touch bosses that she cannot justify such a huge salary and dropping it to a still-generous £170,000, which is far more in line with that paid to other council chiefs.

In the meantime, The Evening Star - and our thousands of readers - will continue to watch every move of the administration.

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