Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
A troubleshooter dubbed “Marbella Man” – on almost £2,000 a day – was paid above the market rate by a struggling health board, an audit has found.
Interim recovery director Phillip Burns received £370,000 for nine months work at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, from his home in Spain.
An Audit Wales’ annual report to the board on Thursday will show that he was paid over the odds – despite former CEO Gary Doherty insisting in December 2019 that Mr Burns received the “market rate for this level of expertise”.
North Wales MS Llyr Gruffydd, called for an investigation into how Mr Burns was paid so much money. Audit Wales also revealed his appointment was made before funding for his post was confirmed.
The Wales Audit report said: “The Welsh Government agreed to contribute £350,000 towards the cost of the Interim Recovery Director, but played no part in the appointment itself, which was made by the health board before this funding had been confirmed.
“My work also found that whilst the health board asserts that competitive rates were negotiated for the appointment, I found that the daily rate being paid by the health board for the interim recovery director post is higher than most of the benchmark comparators that were used by officials during the appointment process.”
Plaid Cymru MS Mr Gruffydd said: “The health board tried to defend Marbella Man’s appointment and his cost, saying it was the going rate at the time.
”Wales Audit has now completed its annual report into the health board’s finances and states quite clearly the daily rate paid to the Interim Recovery Director was ‘higher than most of the benchmark comparators that were used by officials during the appointment process’.
“So why did a health board in financial difficulties make such a generous offer – especially at a time when it was trying to force nurses to work an extra shift per month without pay?
“And why did the Labour Government, which had direct supervision of the health board at the time, allow this to happen and indeed provide the direct funding for this position?
“We need a full investigation to establish what went wrong here – BCUHB has been badly managed for many years and this confirms our worst fears that decisions are being made at the top that stink of, at best, incompetence and perhaps something far worse.”
Mr Burns’ contract ended in April last year – two months early.He was supposed to earn around £361,000 for his nine-month stint and save the board cash, by identifying “efficiencies”.
The health board ended the year £40 million in deficit. Mr Burns received £353,450 in total, plus expenses of £16,888.
Sue Green, the health board’s executive director of workforce defended the appointment of Mr Burns: “The due diligence conducted by the health board at the time of the appointment showed that the rate paid was not materially above the market rate and the Recovery Director provided the Health Board with an experienced senior expert in financial recovery, which supported the delivery of the savings programme in 2019/20.
“The health board has revised the process for appointing interim agency workers, requiring agreement from executive directors of finance and workforce, as well as expertise from procurement services, before engaging agencies as part of a national framework.”
Former CEO Mr Doherty left his post at the health board last February and was “seconded” as director of integration at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) approached the trust to obtain a comment from Mr Doherty.
Mr Doherty and Mr Burns previously worked together at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.