A small, rural North Yorkshire council has pushed forward a plan to spend £156,000 a year employing an officer to work three days a week to oversee its finances, blaming the cost on the government’s decision to reorganise local authorities.
The cabinet of the Conservative-run Hambleton District Council has recommended the authority’s 28 elected members later this month approve spending about £1,000 a day for a chief financial officer, a post which it is legally required to fill.
If approved, it is believed the role will become the most costly council officer position in Yorkshire pro rata, far exceeding the £223,000 paid to City of York Council’s chief executive last year.
A meeting of its cabinet heard the council’s current full-time director of finance, Louise Bamford White, who is paid £75,900, would be leaving the authority in a few weeks and an interim chief financial officer had already been recruited, but he would only undertake some of her duties.
The meeting heard due to the work of finance officers at the council the last 15 months had seen numerous government grants rapidly distributed to local businesses and the authority’s financial position strengthen with £150,000 extra in its reserves, despite the pandemic.
Councillor Robson said: “I would like to make it very clear that the only reason Louise is going is because of the impending local government reorganisation.
“If this wasn’t being forced upon us by certain authorities, but in particular my own government, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Louise has worked for eight different authorities throughout the country and this is the only one she feels sad about leaving.”
An officers’ report to the meeting highlighted the importance of the role to the authority stating: “Sound financial management is a key thread which runs through all the council’s priorities.”
The report stated recruiting an interim officer for 12 months through a recruitment agency was the best approach due to the uncertainties surrounding local government reorganisation and its impact on the ability to recruit a suitable candidate.
The criticism levelled at local government reorganisation follows the district council repeatedly refusing to support either of the proposals to create unitary authorities in North Yorkshire and York, saying it could not back anything that would be detrimental to its residents.
Hambleton’s leaders have claimed a move from a two-tier council service to any unitary model would “only be a backward step in terms of a quality, effective, value for money council service”.
Nevertheless, a government announcement about whether single unitary authorities covering the existing York and North Yorkshire council areas or two unitary authorities split on an east-west basis is preferred is expected later this month
.After the meeting other members of the council called for it to revisit the decision, saying other district councils in the county had formed a partnership with the county council to cover such positions at far less cost to taxpayers
.Liberal Democrat member for Stokesley Councillor Bryn Griffiths said: “I am shocked by the amount that they are proposing to pay to cover the post for the next 12 months and wonder what alternatives have been explored.”