Tories hit out over Northumberland County Council new directors roles

Conservative opponents on Northumberland County Council have hit out at Labour bosses over plans for two new director roles

Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland
Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland

A council's plans to halve senior management have been put in question after it proposed new roles just a few months after axeing similar jobs.

Northumberland County Council is looking at creating two new director posts, both of whom would pocket upwards of £100,000 a year.

The move comes on the back of the Labour-run authority’s announcement late last year that it was seeking to halve the number of senior management roles, from six to three, as it sought to make £32m savings in 2014/15.

Three of the council’s top officers - including chief executive Steve Stewart - took redundancy in that re-organisation in moves that the council said would save £1m a year.

Plans for the two new roles have sparked criticism from the Conservative opposition on the council, who claim people have been misled and questioned whether the planned savings will now materialise.

Conservative group leader Coun Peter Jackson said: “We were led to believe the council could happily manage with three senior directors, going down from five to three. Now we are actually being told that that is not the case, that these three senior directors need some senior management support.

“Why was the plan that was put in front of us just about three or four months ago, why has that all of a sudden changed?”

Councillor Peter Jackson
Councillor Peter Jackson
 

Labour leaders said the structure they are proposing is more in keeping with the region’s other local authorities and said the £1m savings target is unaffected. The county council announced its senior management review in November. On the back of that, Mr Stewart took voluntary redundancy at the end of December along with deputy chief executive Kate Roe and Paul Moffat, corporate director of children’s services.

In January, The Journal reported that the authority had hired Geoff Paul, former chief executive of the now defunct Blyth Valley Borough Council.

At the time, Coun Jackson voiced fears Mr Paul’s post could be turned into a permanent fourth executive director role, with the council insisting he had only been brought in on a temporary basis to help with the management review.

At its meeting tomorrow the authority will be asked to approve a new role of director of planning, economy and housing, on a salary of £110,000.

Councillors are also being asked to agree the role of director of education and skills in place of the current head of education and skills post.

Members are also being asked to agree three new pay points of £100,000, £110,000 and £120,000 - which the council says are “at the bottom of the senior management scales” - with the education and skills post to fall within these.

It is not known whether Mr Paul is in the running for either post.

Last night, Coun Jackson said: “My Conservative group is actually deeply concerned that the council was misled when the senior management reshuffle happened because the council went from six senior directors down to three.

“When the chief executive lost his job I raised the prospect of a fourth director and was told by the leader of the council that was not going to happen. Then straight away we get this temporary post for Geoff Paul. We can see aspects of a Labour-led bureaucracy appearing right across the council and we are very concerned.”

Coun Jackson also queried the need for the new roles and said the general public would view the reference to the proposed salaries being “at the bottom of the senior management scales” as an “insult.”

A Labour group spokesperson said: “Our plan for senior management is simple. We believe there should be a ‘flatter’ structure with clearer accountability and we think our plans align more effectively with other local authorities in the region.”

He said the council still stands to save £1m a year through the review.

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