Censored! Cash-strapped council bans petition calling for cut in £220,000 salary of chief executive
Is she worth it? Andrea Hill's £218,592 salary as head of Suffolk County Council prompted angry residents to start an e-petition
A cash-strapped council which has one of Britain's highest-paid chief executives has banned a petition calling for her salary to be cut.
The e-petition calling for a reduction in the £218,592 salary of Suffolk County Council chief executive Andrea Hill was placed on the authority's website.
But council officials removed it from the site after just seven people had had a chance to sign it, ruling that the subject matter was 'inappropriate' as the council did not have the power to cut her salary.
The signatories were notified by e-mail explaining that it had been deactivated and would not be appearing again.
Ms Hill, 46, sparked outrage when she was appointed in 2008 on a salary more than £70,000 higher than that earned by her predecessor.
She ignored communities minister Eric Pickles when he called last year for council chef executives earning over £200,000 to take a ten per cent pay cut.
Ms Hill who earns £77,000 more than the prime minister's £143,000 salary insisted she had done enough by refusing two pay rises which would have increased her salary by 11 per cent.
She said last month 'I've considered that I've already given up two pay increases as I thought that was the thing to do at the time and I shan't be taking a further pay cut.'
Her salary has continued to be criticised as the Tory-run council is having to make £44million of savings this year.
Controversial cuts which are being considered include the closure of libraries, the axing of lollipop patrols outside schools and the transfer of care homes to the private sector.
Emma Boon, campaign manager for the Taxpayers Alliance, described the council's decision to stifle criticism of Ms Hill's salary as 'awful'.
Under pressure: Miss Hill earns £77,000 more than David Cameron and has resisted a call from Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government, for council chef executives earning over £200,000 to take a 10% pay cut
She said: 'The council should have been open and transparent and left this petition on its website. It is very wrong for it to try and stifle open debate about Andrea Hill's salary.
'I hope that the people
of Suffolk will set up a petition elsewhere and keep signing it so they
can make their feelings known. It is only right that Ms Hill should be
sharing some of the pain of the people of Suffolk.'
Petition organiser Peter Freeman posted his demand for Ms Hill to have a pay cut on a section of the council website dedicated to e-petitions.
His e-petition posted on January 22 stated: 'I wish to request a significant reduction in Andrea Hill's salary.'
The council normally allows petitions to remain on the site for three months to attract signatures.
Taxpayers' money: Miss Hill has been slammed for introducing a £400,000 training course for staff which included techniques used by TV hypnotist Paul McKenna
But it was taken down on January 25 and an e-mail was sent by an official to all the signatories, saying: 'I regret to inform you that I have de-activated the e-petition on the Suffolk County Council website.
reason is that the desired action of the petition is not within the
legal power of the council to process. I am informing you as one of the
signatories of the petition.'
One signatory, Jeannie Abbott, of Melton, Suffolk, said she was angered by the response.
She has sent letters of complaint to Mr Cameron and Mr Pickles, accusing the council of censorship.
Abbott said: 'I feel that the petition was censored...if the county
council is not able to decide the salary of the chief executive then who
She stated in her letters to the Government that the implication of the council's statement was that it was unable to alter the chief executive's salary even though many of it staff faced the prospect of having their contracts changed.
The website says that the council is 'committed to engaging with its citizens' and believes that petitions are a way of getting people to 'participate in the democratic process'.
Similar petition calls for individual libraries and bus services and school crossing patrols to be saved have been left on the site.
Eric Whitfield, Suffolk County Council's monitoring officer, said: 'The Council's provision for receiving and dealing with e-petitions is included in its Constitution and reflects the legislation and the national guidance for local authorities set out in the Government's Model Scheme.
'Full Council is not able to vote on the alteration of individual terms and conditions.
'It was therefore my view, as the Council's Monitoring Officer, that this petition was inappropriate as it was calling for the Council to take action which it is not lawfully able to take.'
David Wood, the council's deputy Lib Dem opposition leader, said: 'The salary of the chief executive remains a potent issue and it is not going to go away.'
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter added: 'This is not an issue that can be brushed under the carpet.
'The council is right in that you cannot just alter the terms of a contract of employment - but there must be a way of changing things. It remains a major issue throughout the county.'
Ms Hill caused controversy soon after her appointment by introducing a £400,000 training course for 400 council staff which included neuro-linguistic programming, a controversial techniques used by TV hypnotist Paul McKenna.
The council was also criticised in 2008 for spending more than £6,000 on team-building exercises for 50 senior staff. The training including chocolate-making lessons, drumming, singing and trying out rope walks at an activity centre.
ANDREA HILLS' PROPOSALS TO SAVE MONEY
In a speech about budget cuts made in December last year, Andrea Hill explained the council's plan was to reduce expenditure of 'between £110m and 125m' over the next four years, or 30 per cent of public spending.
The cuts would affect health and social care trusts, schools and roads, said Mrs Hill, who described the cuts as 'ideas that are principally about ways in which we can re-engineer and redesign services to save money.'
'We have also set ourselves
a target through divestment an additional £40m of savings,' she told councillors.
'This would be about putting children’s social care and adult social care with health, perhaps clustered around the same sort of boundaries that we’re going to have with the new GP commissioners,' she said.
'We want to move towards 100 per cent personalisation...where we assess people’s care needs, and give them a personal budget, and...they then buy their care support from different enterprises in Suffolk. That helps us cut down the costs of actually doing the assessments and administering the types of services we provide for people.'
'We’re looking at whether we could group all of the Suffolk schools into a single organisation.'
'We’re also looking to see if it’s more cost effective to have a different highways service that brings together design and delivery.'
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