Highland Council is shelling out £936 a day – almost £250,000 a year – for a new education boss, it has emerged.
Paul Senior was headhunted for the council after the original recruitment process for its chief executive officer (ECO) for education failed to find a suitable candidate.
The council appointed London-based Gatenby Sanderson to widen the search, on the understanding that the use of consultants can cost up to £1,000 per day.
In a question raised by councillor Andrew Baxter, recently suspended by the council’s Independent group, it has emerged that the cost to the taxpayer for Mr Senior is £936 per day gross, five days per week for a period up to 12 months.
The council explained that they would not have to cover Mr Senior’s National Insurance, pension or training costs and would not have to pay him if he was on holiday or off sick.
Mr Senior started working with the council at the end of May from an education management role with Hackney Council.
He has worked for various English unitary, borough, city and county councils as interim director and consultant of education, children’s or adult services.
The council’s other ECOs earn in the region of £91,000 a year. The Prime Minister is entitled to £79,286.
All eight ECOs in Highland Council also have corporate responsibility for a geographical area, which includes ‘community capacity building, strengthening partnership and promoting cross-service collaboration and build on the council ‘s relationship and reputation with the communities it serves’.
Mr Senior’s allocated area is Sutherland.
Mr Baxter described the eye-watering fee as a ‘kick in the teeth’ to head teachers who have recently had their £5m devolved budget removed to support the council’s ailing finances.
He said: “At a time when the council administration tells us that the finances are in a perilous position, I am staggered that they think spending nearly a grand a day on a consultant is good value for money.
“It’s a kick in the teeth to those head teachers who had carefully budgeted and then saw their school funds raided.
“Little did they realise that this smash and grab raid was to help pay for an expensive bureaucrat.”
The pay revelation has also sparked cross-party outrage from councillors, including many who sit on the education committee, saying they were not informed about the recruitment developments, nor about the amount.
Former head teacher councillor Graham Mackenzie described the appointment as ‘incomprehensible’.
He said: “As education spokesman for the opposition I was asked to serve on the appointment panel, which I agreed to, then I was suddenly told it wasn’t going to happen and it was to be a direct appointment by the chief executive.
“It’s incomprehensible that they are making an appointment like this as a time we’re being told drastic cuts have to be made.”
UHI lecturer and councillor Ken Gowans said the costs for the post and the hiring arrangements were not agreed by any committee.
“My understanding is this was decided by the chief executive using emergency powers.
“It is very important that anyone in this role has a good grasp of all the logistical challenges we face in Highland and the needs of communities.
“While remote working has many benefits it also has its limits.”
Parent and secretary of Bishop Eden’s primary school parent council Helen Smith said: “The difference between his salary and other executive chief officers would pay for eight to ten pupil support assistants.”
Highland Council’s response
Highland Council has tried to recruit to the new post of Eco Education and Learning on two previous occasions without success.
An alternative approach was agreed by the council’s member recruitment panel in February this year to attract a high calibre candidate with a track record in education leadership and improvement.
This involved approaching a head hunting agency, a review of the recruitment package and job and person specifications.
This was noted at the council meeting in March 2020.
Recruitment was concluded during lock-down, with an appointments panel on a reduced scale agreed by the member ‘Gold’ group for this purpose on April 13.
This was reported to council in June 2020.
The appointment was confirmed on 22nd May for a temporary placement on a consultancy basis.
Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “The need for high quality education leadership was heightened in the council’s Covid response to make sure learning continued while schools were closed, childcare was provided for key workers, vulnerable children were supported and schools re-openly safely, in line with Government requirements and taking into account the views of parent and other groups including trade unions.
“In short we needed strong leadership to deal with the pandemic and going forward we need to raise attainment in our schools.
“Paul Senior has the skills we need.”
The fee paid was negotiated with the agency involved for the consultant appointed.
It is not a like for like comparison with permanent staff salary costs.
Permanent staff costs incur an additional 30% salary on cost for the council covering National Insurance and pension contributions and training.
Consultants pay these costs themselves.
Tax is also deducted from the consultancy fee and there are no payments made by the council in the event that the consultant isn’t working due to taking annual leave or sick periods or for necessary training costs.
Current national guidance is for staff to work from home where they can and this applies to all council staff including its senior leadership.
All Ecos have an area responsibility and that includes supporting area committees, staff forums and local initiatives.