Efficient Andrea meets the Star

ANDREA Hill is not someone to leave things to chance - she is a very efficient woman. Before our 15-minute interview, we had published ten questions - and Mrs Hill had clearly prepared answers before the interview.

ANDREA Hill is not someone to leave things to chance - she is a very efficient woman.

Before our 15-minute interview, we had published ten questions - and Mrs Hill had clearly prepared answers before the interview.

However any follow-up question seemed to just get a repeat of the original answer and the answers were couched in local government-speak.

The major issue which has been so controversial is her salary, which has been described as being up to £220,000. The first question, therefore was clear - exactly what is your salary.

She said: “It is £218,000 a year. I think it is a fair salary for the responsibilities I have. This is a £1 billion a year organisation and if I was in the private sector I could earn three times that, but I chose to work in the public sector.”

Does she have any difficulty in reconciling her income, 50 per cent more than that of her predecessor Mike More, to staff whose salary increases are expected to be broadly in line with inflation.

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She insisted: “That is the going rate for county council chief executives. It is not out of line with other counties.”

Mrs Hill is committed to the county's vision of taking over all council services in Suffolk - although she insisted this would not be simply a case of an Endeavour House takeover.

She said: “It would not be a case of the existing county council taking over. It would see the creation of a new body, One Suffolk, to take over the services.

“That would provide services across the county and it would be more efficient than the current structure.”

But how could one council represent interests as diverse as farmers in Fressingfield and commuters living on Ipswich Waterfront?

She said: “Voters would be represented by their councillors. A single council would bring efficiencies which would ultimately reduce council tax bills.”

While she was chief executive of Bedfordshire, Mrs Hill spearheaded the county's bid for unitary status which ultimately proved unsuccessful - despite £500,000 being spent on the campaign.

She said: “We shall not be doing that in Suffolk. It is a different situation. The Boundary Commission will be making a recommendation and that will go to the Secretary of State for a final decision.”

District and borough councils across Suffolk - including Waveney, Suffolk Coastal, Ipswich, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath - have backed the concept of three councils for Suffolk, Ipswich, East Suffolk and West Suffolk.

What makes the concept of a single council better than that?

Mrs Hill said: “One Suffolk would be more efficient and would offer savings to council taxpayers.

“And it is backed by Mid Suffolk Council as well as ourselves.”

When it was pointed out that Mid Suffolk was really a subsidiary of the county after integrating many of its services, Mrs Hill said: “It's a separate authority but there are efficiencies from sharing services such as Customer Service Direct.”

Efficiency is clearly important to Mrs Hill.

There has been criticism of Mrs Hill's decision not to move to Suffolk as she starts work in the county - at present her family lives in south Cambridgeshire.

She said: “I would love to move to Suffolk, but I have young children at school and I have to consider what is best for my family.”

That could be a consideration as Suffolk County Council in its present form will cease to exist within the next 12 to 18 months - and with it her job.

She said: “The jobs will continue for most people whatever organisation continues after local government review.”

But her job is different it is unique - and there has been concern that Suffolk Council Taxpayers could be left picking up the bill for any redundancy package.

So would she like to work for a successor to Suffolk County Council - either “One Suffolk” or a smaller unitary authority?

She insisted: “I would love to be working in Suffolk in three or four years' time.”

In the meantime, during the run-up to the unitary decision, is she planning major changes to Suffolk County Council.

When she took over Bedfordshire it was a poorly-performing council, and by the time she moved east its reputation had improved significantly.

Suffolk is very different - it is seen as very well run. How will she approach running a county that does not need major changes?

She said: “Suffolk is one of the best-performing councils in the country. I intend to make it even better.”

Andrea Hill factfile:

She began her local government career at Thurrock council in the 1980s.

She worked in North Hertfordshire and for Cambridge City Council where she was assistant chief executive.

In 2001 she became chief executive of Colchester Borough Council.

In 2004 she became chief executive of Bedfordshire County Council. Despite making it a more efficient local authority, it is due to be abolished by the government.

In March 2008 she was appointed chief executive of Suffolk County Council, starting work on April 21.