Council chief agrees to unpaid leave request

Paul Walker
Paul Walker
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HARTLEPOOL Borough Council chief executive Paul Walker has agreed to take four weeks unpaid leave – putting £13,000 back into the public coffers.

The unprecedented move was agreed by Mr Walker after a request from Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond and followed a wave of backlash against the chief executive’s £10,000 salary rise.

Since the Mail broke the story, we have been inundated with letters, emails and calls opposed to the rise.

Mayor Drummond took the rare course of action because of the “damage that has been done” and the need to take “rapid action” to repair it.

In a heartfelt piece to the Mail, Mayor Drummond also revealed that his wife Rebecca Drummond, who works in the council’s child and adult services department, has become a victim of the cuts.

Mrs Drummond, whose role includes raising the aspirations of young people in town, will be made redundant next month.

Mr Walker’s salary has gone from £157,205 to £168,000 a year. The four weeks of unpaid leave will be taken over the course of the next financial year.

Mayor Drummond described it as a “fair and necessary” step and said he hoped it would help rebuild public confidence in the cabinet - which approved the salary hike.

He also hopes it will repair the council’s reputation with the Government after a minister called for Mr Walker to lead by example in the wake of severe budget cuts.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently called for all council jobs with a salary of more than £100,000 to be agreed by the full council.

But Mayor Drummond added that Hartlepool intends to go further.

Any senior management post within the council with a salary of £58,000 or above will need full council approval before the recruitment process starts.

Mayor Drummond described the past week as the “longest and one of the most unpleasant” of his life.

He said 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 decision to increase Mr Walker’s salary, a rise of 6.8 per cent, was labelled “morally indefensible” by union leaders, while residents and councillors also condemned the move.

Last week Bob Neill, minister in the Department of Communities and Local Government, said there is no defence for local authority bosses to get an inflation-busting pay rise.

The rise was initially backed by the council’s cabinet committee, which is led by Mayor Drummond, in October 2009.

The decision was then called in by the scrutiny co-ordinating committee, before it was finally ratified by the cabinet last December, with full details emerging only 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.