Questions over £1,000-a-day pay for council’s temporary chief executive

Wakefield Council’s new temporary chief executive will be paid more than £1,000 a day, a meeting heard.

Tony Reeves was appointed as the authority’s most senior officer on an interim basis at a meeting on Wednesday (February 28). Councillors also agreed to pay a £185,000 salary when a permanent chief executive is recruited.

Opposition councillors criticised the Labour leadership over the cost of hiring Mr Reeves and the process of finding a permanent replacement. The temporary appointment was agreed at the council’s budget meeting, where a maximum council tax increase of 4.99 per cent was approved.

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Samantha Harvey, Tory councillor for Wakefield Rural ward, asked: “Can the leader of the council confirm that the range of pay for the interim chief exec is between £1,000 to £1,200 per day? If this is the case, this is an extremely expensive replacement for the permanent role, which is advertised for £185,000.

Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.
Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.

“So, in comparison, the interim payment would be £288,000 pro rata. Has the leader of the council considered promoting this role internally as we did last time? Is this really the best way to spend the taxpayers’ money?”

Council leader Denise Jeffery replied: “The salary grade is the correct salary for the job. Obviously, for Wakefield, we want the best person in that job. The interim role is very important to get us through until we appoint a full-time chief executive. We felt it would be better to have someone from outside with a fresh pair of eyes to move us forward.”

Akef Akbar (Independent, Wakefield East), said: “You are asking us to approve a salary for £185,000. The prime minister of this country is paid £164,000.

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“The MP of this city is paid £79,000. How do you justify a salary of £185,000? We are having a budget meeting today, looking at where we can save costs. This is the first place you can save costs.”

Mr Reeves will replace Andrew Balchin, who is retiring at the end of March after three years in charge. The council has said Mr Reeves is likely to be in place until the summer.

Conservative group leader Nadeem Ahmed asked why a permanent appointment had not already been made.

He said: “I’m not sure how this interim role came about. I fully support Andrew (Balchin) and the work that he has done. When someone announces a retirement or a resignation there should be ample time for a handover between that person and another one. This is a serious question about political leadership. There should have been some form of handover, particularly with Andrew’s knowledge of the council over the years.”

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Coun Jeffery said interviews for the position will be held on March 15 but any chosen candidate from outside the authority may have to complete a notice period with a current employer.

She said: “The interim process will be for four months. We have so many people actually applying for this job. We have a large number of people coming forward. Wakefield has been a brilliant authority and it has attracted so many candidates. But people who have applied are already in post.

“If we appoint somebody at the interview on March 15 then it could be three months. So we felt an interim would be the best way of moving forward to give everybody, internal candidates as well, a fair crack of the whip.”

Jacquie Speight (Labour, Altofts and Whitwood), defended the appointment.

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She said “We are in a stable financial position at the moment. But we also know that all local authorities are operating in a very, very challenging environment. We need to make sure that we are attracting the best possible people to Wakefield.

“The salary levels for both the interim and permanent chief executive proposed are commensurate with authorities of this size. I don’t think it is any good comparing it with the prime minister or MPs.”

Coun Speight added: “Compare this post with the multi-million pound turnover that this council has, with the thousands of staff, the complexity of the work – it’s about people’s lives. If you compare that to jobs in the private sector that have got some similarity.

"I think we would find that the private sector is paying a lot more. I think our residents deserve the very best people we can attract. To do that we have to pay the rate for the job.”

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Mr Reeves served as Wakefield’s deputy chief executive between 2003 and 2006. More recently he has held a number of high-profile leadership roles, including as interim chief executive at Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and chief executive at Liverpool City Council. Between 2006 and 2014 he spent eight years as chief executive at Bradford Council.

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