IT project dispute for CEC and CWAC

The hiring of a temporary officer for more than £1,000 a day has been defended by Cheshire East Council chiefs who insist the alternatives were more costly, writes Stephen Topping.

Cheshire East has hired an interim officer to take on the role of monitoring officer – a role required by law, with responsibility for ensuring the council’s code of conduct is followed by members and officers.

It follows a restructure of the council’s corporate services department which took effect on April 1, and under CEC rules the local authority is not able to confirm a permanent appointment until May 22.

But the interim officer is costing the authority £995 a day plus a 16% management fee to an agency – taking the total daily cost for taxpayers to £1,154.20.

At a staffing committee on Thursday, Kath O’Dwyer, acting chief executive, said: “I accept it looks like a lot of money, but it is important to note that [for] agency workers, interim workers, it is the rate.

consultancy firm - Kath O'Dwyer 2 - acting chief exec CEC

Kath O’Dwyer

“The rate can be a lot higher than that – certainly some of the CVs that we looked at as part of this process went up to at least £1,200 or £1,250 a day.

“So it is certainly not top end, although I do think we have got very good quality for our money, but I also think it is important to note that this is a daily rate for daily work.

“There is no sick pay, there is no holiday pay, there is no pension contribution, there is no National Insurance contribution, we don’t pay bank holidays – we only specifically pay for the days we get.2

The temporary officer takes on the role of interim director of governance and compliance.

CEC interviewed candidates for the permanent role on April 10, but under its constitution the position can only be confirmed by elected members at the next full council meeting on May 22.

That means without a permanent appointment, the council would have been without its statutory monitoring officer for at least seven weeks – or longer depending on how much notice the new permanent officer would have to give to their current employer.

Ms O’Dwyer added: “We just could not sustain a gap of any duration – certainly not one of that duration.

“I fully accept that there is some reputational impact of an interim appointment because of the publicised and perhaps misunderstood cost.

“But the greater reputational damage would have been for the council not to have a monitoring officer. That would have been much more widespread and much more significant.”

Cllr Dorothy Flude thanked the acting chief executive for explaining the situation in public – acknowledging that the figure being paid to the temporary officer as ‘a large sum of money’.

The Labour member for Crewe South said: “This is a costly appointment, and we know these posts do cost – let’s be under no illusion.

“They cost a lot of money to get good people – and I understand that this person is a really excellent person.”

But Cllr Laura Jeuda, Labour member for Macclesfield South, suggested that the sums could still be difficult for council tax payers to stomach.

She said: “I don’t think it will make any difference to people, I just think they will see £1,000 a day and that’s it.

“That’s what I am getting on the doorstep and I don’t know if it’s happening to anybody else.”

The authority’s preferred candidate for the permanent role will be put to councillors on May 22, who will then vote on whether to approve the appointment.

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