It is not surprising that the Mail on Sunday ran a comment article on Suffolk’s high-paid county council chief executive, Andrea Hill yesterday. Its sister paper the Daily Mail has had its teeth into this story for months.
What is surprising is that it was written by Kathy Pollard, Lib Dem leader on the council, and her colleague Caroline Page, who represents Woodbridge. It underlines the breakdown in relations between Pollard and Hill which was revealed last week.
Pollard and Page write in the MoS:
The chief executive of a publicly listed company is tasked with taking shareholders’ money and making it multiply. They need to be entrepreneurial, risk-taking. The value of their shares can go down as well as up and it is fair to remunerate them accordingly.
The chief executive of a county council, on the other hand, takes no risks, makes no profits – all they are asked to do is to spend our money wisely on our public services. Far from being entrepreneurs, they are glorified quartermasters.
Yet a lot of these executives have little experience of real life. All they have ever known is how to ‘administer’ things in a local government context.
Unelected, unaccountable, graced with what ordinary people often feel are screamingly undeserved salaries, they have risen without trace within the largely unaudited, unquestioning world of local government fiefdoms.
There can be no doubt that a large proportion of the Suffolk taxpayers see Hill as the problem. Her wages are considerably higher than those of David Cameron. And on top of that she spends their money on seemingly whacky training, a glamorous photo shoot and more.
Yet the extent to which she is responsible for the policies which are seeing school crossing patrols and lower-cost travel for students ended, recycling centres closed, retirement homes likely to be sold, bus services reduced and libraries under threat is unclear.
These are decisions for the Conservative cabinet and the overwhelmingly Tory councillors. But there is a lack of clarity about where the policies are really originating.
If council leader Jeremy Pembroke and his cabinet colleagues would take a much more public stance in explaining their policies and justifying them it might take some of the pressure off Hill. It may well be too late for that as Hill has become the story of Suffolk County Council.
The attacks on Hill are the most obvious symptom of the frustration of people who feel they have little chance of influencing policy. Something needs to change, and change quickly.