Suffolk: Andrea Hill eyes up return to council HQ

EMBATTLED county council chief executive Andrea Hill is keen to return to work at Endeavour House, the organisation representing her said today.

Mrs Hill is a member of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE). The body is supporting her during the inquiry that was prompted by an anonymous whistle-blower at the county.

Mary Orton, honorary secretary of ALACE, said: “She (Mrs Hill) is a very resilient person but she would much rather be at her desk working for the people of Suffolk.”

She said the inquiry is still at the preliminary stage, and continued: “There is a very carefully designed set process for this kind of thing that the council must follow.”

She said the preliminary inquiry will determine “if there is any case to answer”.

She added: “A council cannot just sack a chief executive. There has to be substantial evidence of wrongdoing after a proper inquiry by a designated independent person.”

The Evening Star understands the inquiry which has resulted in Mrs Hill staying away from work is today still continuing and more interviews are expected to be carried out next week as part of the preliminary inquiry.

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No one from the council was able to comment on the progress of the inquiry, but The Star understands officials and councillors accept it could take some time.

Mrs Hill went on holiday, as planned, just hours after Mark Bee was elected as leader of the ruling Conservative group on April 18 and was due back last week.

However, a statement was released by the council saying: “The chief executive has been asked by the council to take additional leave so that preliminary investigations can be made into anonymous whistle-blowing complaints received by the council.

“Andrea Hill has agreed to remain away from work so that the review can be carried out independently.”

The inquiry is understood to relate to a letter apparently sent by someone from the council’s legal team saying more support was needed by the department following the sudden death of interim head of legal services David Whitewhich followed shortly after the departures of council monitoring officer Eric Whitfield and director Graham Dixon.

Meanwhile, further revelations have today emerged about the cost of hotel stays during a major conference last year.

The Evening Star has already revealed that county council chief executive Andrea Hill enjoyed a three-night stay at the �205-a-night four star Haven Hotel in Sandbanks during the Local Government Association annual conference.

Now it has emerged that the rest of the Suffolk County Council delegation stayed in rooms costing �85 a night at the three-star Royal Exeter Hotel, just across the road from the Bournemouth International Conference Centre – while Mrs Hill travelled three miles each way to her plush hotel.

There were five councillors in the Suffolk delegation: county council leader Jeremy Pembroke, cabinet members Colin Noble and Graham Newman, opposition LibDem leader Kathy Pollard, and Labour group leader Sandy Martin.

Mrs Hill’s �205-a-night hotel stay was authorised by then monitoring officer Eric Whitfield while the other hotel rooms were authorised by county lawyer David Holt.

Details of the stay were revealed in a Freedom of Information request that has just been returned to The Star.

And we can also reveal that the entire Ipswich borough delegation – including chief executive Russell Williams – plumped for the Belvedere Hotel, also within walking distance of the conference centre, at �84 a night.

Charlotte Linacre, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s clear that much cheaper options were available for this trip. I believe spending �200 a night on a hotel shows the wrong priorities.”

Liz Harsant, who was leader of the borough at the time, said she is used to staying in modest hotels when on council business.

She said: “I wouldn’t dream of staying somewhere like The Haven when the tax payer is paying.

“I think the LGA annual conference is really necessary for representatives from all three parties to attend as well as the chief executives but at the same time we have to be careful about costs.”

Mrs Harsant believes high earning public servants should pay towards the costs of their accommodation if they wish to stay in four-star hotels.