Andrea Hill stayed at hotels in Suffolk at taxpayers expense because it would have been difficult to travel home to Cambridgeshire. The stories about the spending by the county council’s chief executive seem to be never-ending.
But this time there is a difference. We learn from the East Anglian Daily Times that political leaders had become concerned. They talked about it and Jeremy Pembroke, who yesterday resigned at leader of the council, talked to Ms Hill.
The bills were not large — £85 on two occasions to stay at Milsom’s Kesgrave Hall hotel and £120 for a night at the Brudenell in Aldeburgh.
Jane Storey who is to become interim leader, told the EADT:
She was not going over the top so far as I am aware, but we were very aware of the sensitivity of the situation and said this is not a good image….
To be fair to Andrea, I think she has changed some of the things that she does and puts in for. I feel she has changed some of her expenditure.
The Aldborough stay, for a dinner in the town, was an opportunity to meet people well into the evening, and Cllr Storey says she would have expected it to be agreed with Cllr Pembroke. The stays at Kesgrave Hall were followed by breakfast meetings.
In a telling comment, the Lib Dem leader, Kathy Pollard, says:
The former chief executive Mike More also lived in Cambridgeshire, but he bought a small home in Ipswich at his own expense where he stayed if he had an early or late meeting.
Sandy Martin, the Labour leader, told the paper:
Generally, I would say it is either up to the person, whoever it is, to go home or to stay at their own expense.
This all makes Ms Hill’s 1,850 word defence of herself in the new edition of Inside SCC (full text at wikisuffolk), the staff newsletter, more extraordinary. At the time of publication she must have been aware of Cllr Pembroke’s resignation and probably knew that the story about her hotel expenses was likely to break. (It came from a Freedom of Information request to the council.)
In her message to employees she sees the stories which have been appearing in newspapers as personal attacks based on envy. They are not. They are founded in her apparent lack of sensitivity; a carelessness with public money at a time when others are losing their jobs.
That spending on photographs, hotels, rather odd training and more is evidence to most of us that she does not have the qualities to justify her £218,000 a year salary.
Now we know that council politicians were aware of the sensitivity of her position and it had been pointed out to her.
Yet, in her Inside SCC defence she fails to see how taking two training trips to the US paid for by BT looks to others.
Has it clouded my judgement in relation to BT? No it hasn’t: I have just negotiated £4m of efficiencies and cost reductions in our contract charge this year.
Maybe it hasn’t but it is naive not to see how it appears. BT is in the CSD contract to make money (according to some reports it has been running rings around her and the county council). Someone who is negotiating with them on the price of the contract should see that taking free trips from BT is not going to look good?
The trips were to the US were in 2008 and perhaps she would not do the same again. Her spending on hotels to avoid the 120 mile round trip to her home has been reined-in.
Yet in her 1,850 words there is no sign of awareness of the image she has created of herself. And certainly no contrition.
A link to the East Anglian Daily Times story will be added after it appears on their website. Added above.
The resignation of two senior officials of Suffolk County Council followed yesterday by Jeremy Pembroke, the Conservative leader, were linked today by Sandy Martin, the Labour leader.
He suggested, in a BBC Radio Suffolk interview, officials were making decisions that were too political (he mentioned the “chief executive” but not by her name, Andrea Hill) and that the two officials were the only two people to stand up against this.
Cllr Martin said Cllr Pembroke was a “decent chap” but “out of touch with reality” and did not have the control that was required.
The two officials are Graham Dixon who until Wednesday was director of resource management, and Eric Whitfield, the monitoring officer (EADT).
Cllr Pembroke told BBC Radio suffolk that he was “not pushed” and had made his decision at the beginning of December. He said: “I genuinely believe it [the New Strategic Direction] is the right thing to do.”
He told the East Anglian Daily Times:
I have enjoyed being Leader immensely. I believe we have made great strides in modernising the authority, making efficiencies and creating an organisation that, even in these difficult financial times, will deliver.
I feel this is the right time for me to step down to give the next Leader enough time to prepare for the elections in 2013. I know that I will be leaving the authority in good hands.
The deputy leader, Jane Storey, will take over as interim leader until an election is held later this month. The favourite, according to the EADT, is Colin Noble. He was recently described to me as the most capable and ambitious politician on the council.
Kathy Pollard, a Liberal Democrat and leader of the opposition, described the situation as “quite extraordinary”. She had been at a meeting earlier in the week at which Graham was expected, but was told, “He is not in today”.
She said it was clear that Jeremy Pembroke was under a great deal of pressure.
While all this was going the April issue of the Inside SCC internal newsletter was being finalised. Production was completed at 2.45 yesterday afternoon. In a 1,850 word message chief executive Andrea Hill writes:
Let’s be clear, Suffolk County Council is now at the leading edge of new thinking in the public sector. We have an inspiring and bold Cabinet who have placed us there. It’s not an easy or comfortable place to be because we are challenging the old ways of doing things; we are developing a new model that will unsettle the status quo and, as we all know, any change makes ordinary people uncertain. Changing the system also challenges vested interests and will therefore be attacked.
That’s partially why I’m getting so much focus and now why Jeremy Pembroke, the most honest, visionary, trustworthy politician I have ever worked with, is, in my view, being unfairly attacked by a local newspaper. But we also have advocates and supporters both in central government, and local government, who are looking to Suffolk as a future role model. You won’t see them in the media – and you might well ask why – but be sure they exist.
The full text is is at wikisuffolk.