Watchdog set to probe pay deal

WATCHDOGS were already set to probe a decision to appoint a new £220,000 chief executive for Suffolk, prior to concerns about the process being raised, it emerged today.

WATCHDOGS were already set to probe a decision to appoint a new £220,000 chief executive for Suffolk, prior to concerns about the process being raised, it emerged today.

Controversy has raged since the increased salary given to 44-year-old Andrea Hill - up to £70,000 more than the previous post-holder - was made public.

She was officially appointed last month following unprecedented opposition to her selection amid concerns over the size of salary and the way in which the package was beefed up.

Suffolk County Council's Labour Group prepared a detailed submission which it claims sets out a series of serious breaches of rules and procedure by the county council in the run up to the awarding of the £220,000 salary and a failure by the county to achieve the best value for money for taxpayers as a result of this decision.

That submission was handed over to the Audit Commission last Friday April 4, but it has since emerged the local government watchdogs were already keeping an eye on the situation.

A spokesman for the Audit Commission said: "The district auditor was already aware of the public interest generated by the appointment of Suffolk's new chief executive and had contacted the council on March 28 to get further information about the appointment process.

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“He will look at the information the council provides and decide if there is anything appropriate for him to further consider in his role as its appointed auditor."

The spokesman said he could not comment on the specifics of the probe but revealed that in general terms the district auditor will work to see if decisions represent value for money and whether rules have been broken.

He added that there are a number of actions the auditor can take including:

Reporting back to an authority directly without the findings being publicly released

Issuing a report “in the public interest” if he feels an issue needs to be brought to the wider public's attention

Referring an issue to a court if it is believed the law has been broken

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said the authority has nothing to hide.

She said: “The county council is happy to explain the recruitment process to anyone.

“The process has already been independently assessed and approved by the county's monitoring officer.”

n. Do you have concerns about the appointment? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk