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Ross-shire councillors brand education chief £936-a-day cost 'completely unjustifiable'

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillors Ian Cockburn and Maxine Smith. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Councillors Ian Cockburn and Maxine Smith. Picture: Gary Anthony.

The SNP and Conservative groups at Highland Council have hit out at the appointment of its £936-a-day interim education chief.

Revelations that Paul Senior is to be paid £244,296 for the year sparked fury across the region from MSPs, councillors and members of the public both for the size of the pay cheque and for the manner it was agreed.

The recruitment process concluded during the lockdown led to a reduced appointments panel that was agreed to by the so-called Member Gold Group – involving senior administration officials and the SNP opposition.

A council spokeswoman said: “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.”

The recruitment panel was reduced in size on April 13 due to the pandemic and then just over a week later “in place of the shortened appointments panel” it was agreed that council chief executive Donna Manson and education committee chairman John Finlayson would make the appointment.

However, the SNP group's co-leaders councillors Maxine Smith and Ian Cockburn said they were unaware of the huge sums involved.

Cllr Smith said: “The member gold team that met during the pandemic, of which we were part, agreed that they should keep looking for an education officer. After that we heard nothing until we were advised, after the fact, that someone had been appointed at such high cost. We were in shock, along with the rest of the councillors and the public.

“The administration in Highland Council will have a tough time persuading the public and government that the council is short of money when they are about to spend £250,000 on a wage for a new education consultant.”

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

Those claims were echoed by Conservative group leader Andrew Jarvie, who said: “I have a formal place on the recruitment panel and was originally invited.

“However, after I raised a number of concerns about it, I received no further invite or information about the interviews.

“The secrecy and feeling of being cut out for questioning a process must be one large reason why this council cannot attract people.

“I was utterly horrified to learn of this cost, especially after I seem to have been cut out of the recruitment process after I raised concerns.

“The cost is completely unjustifiable, the Prime Minister earns £415 per day which only further highlights the obscene fee of £936 per day.

“This is the only post which the council has struggled to fill, so the chief executive has serious questions to answer on how given her education background, this council can’t attract senior education staff.”

A council spokesman previously 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.”

Related: Highland education boss getting paid more than Prime Minister

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