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Highland Council education boss getting paid more than the Prime Minister

By Scott Maclennan

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Interim executive chief officer for education Paul Senior.
Interim executive chief officer for education Paul Senior.

There has been an angry reaction after it emerged that cash-strapped Highland Council agreed to pay its interim education chief Paul Senior £244,296 a year.

It means he is pocketing more than the Prime Minister and his boss, the chief executive Donna Manson.

The huge pay package comes on the back of cuts to additional support needs funding which have led to ongoing protests by worried parents and children.

But council bosses defended the appointment, saying strong leadership was needed to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Senior has already proved controversial after telling councillors on the education committee that it was not the forum to answer certain questions.

One of those who took issue with that position was Councillor Andrew Baxter (Fort William and Ardnamurchan), who accused him of not responding to queries from members.

“It is obscene – the Prime Minister gets around £160,000,” Councillor Baxter said. “Despite my weekly reminders, he has failed to answer the questions I put to him at our local area committee three weeks ago and have reminded him of in writing regularly since then.

“So I am astonished that a highly paid official is unable to answer questions put to him by a councillor when he is being paid such a large amount to do exactly that.

“The council’s response is pathetic. I have no sympathy with their argument that this was necessary or that the other officers who are getting £90,000 are getting their pensions and holiday paid because it is still not justified.

“The line saying we need this official for our children because we need to direct our schools in terms of the teaching provision during lockdown and getting our schools reopened is nonsense because he wasn’t appointed until after May – two months after lockdown commenced.”

Councillor Andrew Baxter.
Councillor Andrew Baxter.

Highland Council said the local authority twice tried to recruit an executive chief officer for education and learning without success so the member recruitment panel agreed to contract head-hunters to do the job for them.

The firm of Gatenby Sanderson was brought in and provided advice on pay scales and rates, leading to the position being offered for up to £1000 a day to attract what was seen as the right candidate.

The recruitment process concluded during the lockdown so a reduced appointments panel was agreed to by the Member Gold Group – which basically ran the council during the lockdown.

A spokeswoman said: “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 per cent 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.”

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.

“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.”

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