POLITICIANS have welcomed the move by Hartlepool Borough Council chief executive Paul Walker to take four weeks’ unpaid leave at a personal cost of £13,000 after a backlash over his salary increase.
The unprecedented move was agreed by Mr Walker after a request from Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond and followed a wave of criticism against the chief executive’s £10,000 salary rise.
Mayor Drummond said he took the course of action because of the “damage that had been done”, as exclusively revealed by the Mail yesterday.
Conservative councillor Ray Wells, who represents the Park ward, said: “I welcome the decision and I would like to make it clear that my dispute was never with the individual, but always with the process and secrecy in which the original decision was made.
“I believe this whole sorry mess has done untold damage to the reputation of Hartlepool Council and hopefully this draws a line in the sand.”
Councillor Chris Simmons, leader of the Hartlepool Labour group and Grange ward representative, said: “The fact that he has decided to agree to take four weeks’ unpaid leave and restore some money into the council coffers, in one of the most difficult times this council has faced, shows a degree of solidarity with his colleagues and I welcome it as a gesture to try and make things a little better.”
Fens councillor Arthur Preece, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “I welcome this decision and the £13,000 will be a useful contribution in the current financial circumstances.”
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said: “I think this repairs some of the damage after the understandable anger that many people in the town felt.”
Edwin Jeffries, join branch secretary of UNISON Hartlepool, said: “UNISON recognises the ‘gesture’ made by the chief executive of offering to take four weeks unpaid leave. However, it is still within the gift of the chief executive to show personal resolve and leadership and turn this ‘pay rise’ down.
“The damage that this has done to industrial relations, the reputation of individuals and Hartlepool as a whole will not easily be forgotten.”
Mr Walker’s salary has gone from £157,205 to £168,000 a year and the four weeks of unpaid leave will be taken over the course of the next financial year.
Mayor Drummond also said that he was “gutted” that the reputation of the council and town had been severely damaged both locally and nationally.
The salary rise comes as the council is cutting services and making 86 workers redundant to save more than £20m in the next four years.
The rise was initially backed by the council’s cabinet committee, which is led by Mayor Drummond, in October 2009.
The decision was called in by the scrutiny co-ordinating committee, before it was finally ratified by the cabinet last December and emerging publicly last week.
The review of the chief executive’s pay scale was approved in line with the council’s remuneration strategy for senior officers, which includes a review of salaries every three years, and it has been confirmed that Mr Walker’s salary is at the top of his new £158,000 to £168,000 scale.