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Anger as call for cut in Suffolk County Council chief's pay is 'censored'

PUBLISHED: 09:32 01 February 2011

AN OUTRAGED Suffolk resident has written to the Prime Minister after a petition calling for county chief Andrea Hill to take a pay cut was withdrawn from council's website after just one day.

Residents are able to put up petitions on the council’s website seeking support for various policies which can be debated by the full council – at present there are many petitions calling for individual libraries to be saved.

They are usually left online for three months to give people the chance to sign them and make their feelings known to the county council.

However after Peter Freeman put up a petition entitled: “I wish to request a significant reduction in Andrea Hill’s salary,” on January 24 it was taken down the following day.

By then seven people had signed it and were sent a message from the county saying: “I regret to inform you that I have de-activated the e-petition on the Suffolk County Council website.

“The reason is that the desired action of the petition is not within the legal power of the council to process. I am informing you as one of the signatories of the petition.”

One of the signatories of the petition was Jeannie Abbott of Melton, near Woodbridge.

She was angered by the response and has sent letters to prime minister David Cameron and secretary of state for local government Eric Pickles.

Mrs Abbott said: “I feel that the petition was censored. It was taken down after 24 hours – and if the county council is not able to decide the salary of the chief executive then who is?”

In her letters to the government, Mrs Abbott says the implication of the county’s statement is that the council is unable to alter the terms of the chief executive’s salary.

However she says that many of the council’s staff are facing the prospect of having their contracts changed.

Mrs Hill was appointed to the job on a salary of £218,000 in 2008.

Earlier this year she pointed out that she had turned down two salary increases since then, which would have given her an extra £11,000 a year.

She said: “I’ve considered that I’ve already given up two pay increases as I thought that was the thing to do at the time and I shan’t be taking a further pay cut.”

Eric Whitfield, Suffolk County Council’s Monitoring Officer, said: “The council’s provision for receiving and dealing with e-petitions is included in its constitution and reflects the legislation and the national guidance for local authorities set out in the government’s model scheme.

“Full council is not able to vote on the alteration of individual terms and conditions.

“It was therefore my view, as the council’s monitoring officer, that this petition was inappropriate as it was calling for the council to take action which it is not lawfully able to take.”

Deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group David Wood said the salary of the chief remained a potent issue.

He said: “I was talking to people about park and ride earlier to today, and they all – quite unprompted – brought up the issue of the chief’s salary. It is not going to go away.”

His view was backed up by Conservative Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter who brought up the issue in the House of Commons in the autumn.

He said: “This is not an issue that can be brushed under the carpet.

“The council is right in that you cannot just alter the terms of a contract of employment – but there must be a way of changing things. It remains a major issue throughout the county.”

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