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Welsh council boss defends near-£300,000 cost of two new senior officers

25 Nov 2022 4 minute read
Caerphilly County Borough Council’s chief executive has defended the introduction of two new senior officers at a cost of nearly £300,000.

Rhiannon James, Local Democracy Reporter

Caerphilly County Borough Council’s chief executive has defended the introduction of two new senior officers at a cost of nearly £300,000.

At a full council meeting on Thursday, November 24, Christina Harrhy said the council was “at risk” without the new positions.

The new roles are a deputy chief executive and a deputy section 151 finance officer, both would assist with work undertaken by the current statutory roles and cover leave.

A section section 151 officer has responsibility of accounts, any unlawful financial activity involving the authority, and balancing the budget.

The cost of a deputy chief executive is estimated at £189,000 and the cost of a deputy section 151 officer is £108,000.

At the meeting, Labour councillor Brenda Miles said the “salary levels are far in excess of what residents will have to live on”. But, Cllr Miles, who represents Nelson, added: “I appreciate Caerphilly Council has no option but to match market rate.”

Ms Harrhy said: “We are the fifth biggest council in Wales and we currently haven’t got the fifth biggest senior team.”

The chief executive enforced that “no additional budget” would be used. The roles would instead be funded by money originally meant for three vacant roles – head of business improvement services (£135,000), head of education, planning and strategy (£106,000), and head of prosperity (£135,000).

At the meeting, Labour councillor Carl Cuss said he’d “never dealt with the head of prosperity” despite his ten years on the local authority. Cllr Cuss, who represents Rhymney, also questioned why these roles were vacant and who was doing the work instead.

Ms Harrhy said the head of prosperity is a position that has never been filled and therefore has been vacant for the past two years. The other two roles have been incorporated into the council’s transformation team, which is led by Sue Richards.

Stephen Harris, section 151 finance officer at the council, confirmed that £376,000 had previously been approved for the three vacant roles.

‘Slap in the face’

Independent councillor Nigel Dix has previously said the decision to appoint two new senior officers is a “slap in the face”.

Plaid Cymru’s council group leader, Cllr Lindsay Whittle, has also criticised the “fat salaries” given to the two new positions, and that the council has its priorities all wrong.

At the meeting, deputy leader of the council, Cllr Jamie Pritchard, said Plaid Cymru’s former leader Colin Mann had previously said the council needed a deputy chief executive in a meeting on October 5, 2021.

Recruitment team

Councillors weren’t voting to approve the two senior officers – this had already been agreed by cabinet – the councillors were voting on the creation of an internal recruitment team.

Thirty-nine voted in support of the recruitment team, 16 voted against it.

The aim of the recruitment team is to tackle the workforce recruitment and retention challenges the council is currently facing – this is expected to cost £320,000.

Council leader, Sean Morgan said: “A vote against this report would be a vote for stagnation and stagnation leads to nowhere, it leads to redundancies.”

400 vacancies

A freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, has found that the council currently has more than 400 vacancies.

  • Education and Corporate Services: 144 vacancies (excluding schools)
  • Economy and Environment: 97 vacancies
  • Social Services and Housing:  163.5 vacancies

The recruitment team would market and promote the organisation to potential candidates, host local events, and use social media to market the council.

Cllr Whittle, who represents, Penyrheol, said: “I would like us to wait at least a year to see how successful that recruitment team would be.”

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