Officers’ pay and interests may be published to aid transparency

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SENIOR officers at a city council could soon have to publish a register of interests under plans to increase transparency at the authority.

Other moves being considered by Labour-led Hull Council include the introduction of individual officer expense listings, abolishing departmental expenses accounting, and publishing details of all salaries above the average weekly wage.

This latter step would go further than the statutory requirement of publishing all salaries above £50,000 and could have implications for the majority of council employees, depending on whether the city or national average is used. As of August, the average weekly wage in the UK was £473, compared to just £222.50 for Hull.

According to a briefing note by Town Clerk Ian Anderson to the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, the register of interests would apply to those officers “who clearly make decisions, influence policy, expend significant amounts of money, thereby putting staff accountability on the same basis as elected members”.

However, the note says the changes would require consultation with staff, which in relation to salary information would “determine whether this is practical and achievable”.

Nonetheless, the council did yesterday end months of speculation by confirming the pay of its most senior officer, interim chief executive Darryl Stephenson, who earns £600 a day and is on a month-by-month contract.

Mr Stephenson was appointed in July following the shock departure of Nicola Yates, who drew an annual salary of £160,000.

The council, which has to save £24m in the next three years, is currently restructuring its senior management posts.

The proposals on greater openness have been broadly welcomed. Coun John Fareham, leader of the Conservative group at the council, who has long been calling for more openness on officer spending, said: “It’s obviously something our group believes in. People have a right to know where public money is going and quite rightly the focus has always been on elected members.

“In the interests of transparency members only make 10 per cent of the detailed decisions and there are only 59 of us compared to several thousand officers. When you think the whole of the corporate strategy team account for as much salary as the 59 councillors, about £500,000, clearly there’s a need for more transparency.”
He added: “They are dragging it out as long as they can but they are going to have to do it.”

Coun Mary Glew, a Labour member of the committee, said: “I think more transparency is always a good thing; that’s the way we operate as a council.”

Under Coun Fareham’s register of interests, in the section for gifts or hospitality received worth at least £25, the former planning committee chairman writes: “I occasionally give advice on planning matters in the East Riding. I receive no remuneration for this other than an occasional bottle of wine or meal. I do not solicit this work nor is it undertaken on a commercial basis. I do not engage in this activity in the city of Kingston upon Hull.”

The declarations for deputy council leader Daren Hale show a remarkable level of activity. As well as also being the head of service for childcare resources at North East Lincolnshire Council, Coun Hale is a member of 17 other organisations, including two unions, the Campaign for Real Ale, the National Trust, the Health Professionals’ Council, the Chartered Institute of Management, Oxfam, the Co-operative Party, Hull Credit Union, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Andrew Allison, the Hull-based national grassroots co-ordinator of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “We welcome more transparency and in doing so it would allow the public to justify whether people should be paid the amount they are or whether these particular roles should be employed by the council.”