Pay rise ‘against scrutiny wishes’

Paul Walker
Paul Walker

SENIOR councillors went against recommendations when approving a £10,000 pay rise for Hartlepool Borough Council chief executive Paul Walker.

Councillor Marjorie James, chairman of the council’s scrutiny co-ordinating committee, announced the cabinet went against the committee’s wishes, at a meeting of the full council last night.

Councillors Robbie Payne

Councillors Robbie Payne

Responding to a question about the decision making process, Coun James said scrutiny had called in the original decision and could find no evidence to back the rise.

But cabinet members ratified their original decision, which was made in October 2009, last December and it emerged publicly last week.

Mr Walker’s salary has gone from £157,205 to £168,000 a year.

The chief executive was at the meeting, but left the council chamber before the discussion after declaring a personal and prejudicial interest.

Coun James said: “The scrutiny co-ordinating committee did not agree with the decision made by cabinet as they could not identify any evidence to warrant a rise in the chief executive’s salary.”

The Labour councillor for the Owton Manor ward said the committee met five times before recommending it be turned down.

In response to the backlash Mr Walker has agreed to take four weeks’ unpaid leave next financial year at a personal cost of £13,000.

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.

Liberal Democrat Hart ward councillor Edna Wright said the rise was “morally obscene” while independent Burn Valley councillor John Lauderdale said the timing was unfortunate, but the cabinet must have been aware of impending cuts.

Labour councillor Robbie Payne, who as deputy mayor was the most senior cabinet member at the meeting, said the cabinet committee had three choices – accept an independent recommendation to increase the salary to £190,000, say no to any rise and face a possible appeal process or reach a compromise.

Coun Payne said: “At every stage we acted in the best interests of the council and the taxpayer.”

Coun James said a salary review should not necessarily mean a pay rise and that the cabinet could have changed their minds in December.

Councillors also passed a resolution that the full council should decide how to spend the £13,000 saving to benefit the “people of Hartlepool”.