New county chief belts up for rough ride

ANDREA Hill takes up the Suffolk hot seat today with controversy continuing to rage over her massive £220,000 salary.

ANDREA Hill takes up the Suffolk hot seat today with controversy continuing to rage over her massive £220,000 salary.

As she belts up for a potentially rough ride, it has emerged that watchdogs visited Endeavour House on Thursday to quiz leader Jeremy Pembroke on how the appointment was made.

As Mrs Hill was settling down behind her new desk, winning over doubters who baulked at her massive pay packet will not be the only challenge she faces.

She must:

lead a council that faces the axe under a local government shake-up

push through plans for a controversial £600million incinerator in Great Blakenham

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combat plummeting morale levels within the organisation

One of her first priorities is likely to be a charm offensive as her very arrival today has triggered fresh concerns that hundreds of thousands of tax payers' money could be spent by the county funding an ill-fated unitary bid.

Under plans to shake-up the structure of local government in Suffolk, the authority is backing plans for a single unitary to cover the entire county.

Mrs Hill's past record involving unitary bids has now come under the spotlight with a prominent politician highlighting her role in the failure of Bedfordshire County Council to avoid the axe.

It has been reported that the cost of Bedfordshire's failed campaign to fight abolition under a unitary shake-up cost as much as £500,000.

If Suffolk ends up going the same way Mrs Hill could be made redundant and end up leafing through the job adverts again in just a few months.

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council's Labour group, said: “Andrea Hill already seems to have a track record of spending tax payers' money on ill-judged challenges.

“I hope we won't see a repeat of this waste of money when the 'Unitary Suffolk' bid fails.

“But can the Tories stand up to her? The signs so far aren't encouraging.”

Council chiefs are already feeling the effects of their decision to appoint Mrs Hill following the visit of the district auditor to Endeavour House to speak with leader Jeremy Pembroke.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council confirmed a meeting had taken place and said Mr Pembroke had “welcomed” the opportunity to discuss the situation.

She said: “The process has already been independently assessed and that was approved by the monitoring officer here at the county council.”

Besides salary concerns and the ongoing Boundary Committee review that could signal the end for Suffolk County Council, the authority is attempting to push through a number of other key initiatives.

These include plans to build a £600million waste incinerator in Great Blakenham, a move that has prompted widespread concern and calls for a public inquiry.

Was the council right to appoint Andrea Hill on up to £220,000 a year? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

STAFF running the county are increasingly feeling overworked and underpaid, a new survey has today revealed.

Research commissioned by the county council found that the number of people positive about issues including enjoyment of work, pay, and how the authority rates as employers, had dropped since a similar study in 2005.

A total of 2,155 people, close to a third of all council staff, responded to the study.

Findings included:

13pc less staff would recommend the council to a friend as a good place to work (59pc in 2007, 69 pc in 2005)

12pc less staff believe information given to them by the council

6pc less staff feel valued by the council (45 pc in 2007, 51 pc in 2005)

4pc less staff feel they are paid fairly

3pc less staff fee able to cope with their workload

In total, positive responses plummeted in 47 question categories, increased in 22 categories and stayed the same in 14.

The concerning snapshot of sentiment within the organisation was measured last summer, and coincides with an ongoing programme to make the council more efficient under the securing the future programme, an initiative that has led to a number of job losses.

It was recorded prior to news of Andrea Hill's bumper salary for taking on the chief executive job.

Andrew Cann, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Suffolk County Council, said he was not surprised by the results.

He said: “With the threat of redundancies hanging over our staff and uncertainty over the future of Suffolk County Council, it is unsurprising that staff are feeling demoralised.

“What's more concerning is they are not feeling valued, perhaps this is also unsurprising given the low levels of pay they are expected to put up with at this time.

“While any period of change is difficult the county council needs to spend more time appreciating the value of its staff.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said: “Ninety per cent of staff responding to the survey said they enjoy the work they do for the county council and more feel they are fairly paid for what they do, compared to equivalent staff in other authorities.

“In the past year county council staff have been subject to huge change within the organisation so a slight dip in some of the satisfaction rates was expected.

“We are working hard to address these issues and make staff, the county council's greatest asset, feel continually valued.”

Her salary package of up to £220,000 tops that of prime minister Gordon Brown who earns £189,000

She could be in line for a big redundancy payout if Suffolk County Council gets abolished as a result of local government changes

The district auditor is looking into claims the council flouted rules governing the appointment process

Opposition politicians took the unprecedented step of attempting to scupper the bumper salary with Mrs Hill only being officially appointed following a close vote of 37 to 31. Councillors voting against the appointment included three Tory members who went against their party line.

1. What will happen to Andrea Hill if Suffolk get unitary, will she have to apply for her job again?

Nobody knows what changes, if any; there will be in the future. What we can say is that the new CEO will have a vital role in shaping the debate about local government.

2. If Suffolk County Council gets unitary will Andrea Hill get a redundancy payment?

The chief executive's focus is on getting the best deal for the people of Suffolk in terms of even better services, better local government and more inward investment.

In the event of any redundancy the chief executive would be entitled to the same senior officer terms and conditions as anyone else. This would be the same if the previous chief executive was in post.

3. Was the current boundary committee review / the future shape of Suffolk discussed in the interview?

Yes.

4. What changes in management style can Suffolk County Council expect?

Suffolk is already one of the top performing local authorities in the country. The chief executive's focus will be on building on this by getting the best deal for the people of Suffolk in terms of even better services, better local government and more inward investment.

5. Will the county council be asking Mrs Hill to move to Suffolk with her job? If not, why not?

The decision on whether to move to Suffolk is one for the chief executive to make herself.