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Single voter could force rethink

PUBLISHED: 16:22 20 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:26 05 July 2010

A COURT ruling on the appointment of £220,000 chief executive Andrea Hill could take place if just ONE member of the public raises concerns about the issue, it emerged today.

A COURT ruling on the appointment of £220,000 chief executive Andrea Hill could take place if just ONE member of the public raises concerns about the issue, it emerged today.

An Audit Commission report last week flagged up a number of mistakes over the way Mrs Hill was selected as head of Suffolk County Council on £70,000 more than predecessor Mike More.

The probe, carried out by district auditor Robert Davies, found a number of “deficiencies” in the appointment process and the report reveals he considered taking the issue to court but opted not to.

It has now emerged that a single registered voter in Suffolk could challenge that decision and even prompt a court ruling on the matter.

However the cost of such a court case could run into thousands of pounds.

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council's Tory administration, said the authority has been open on the process and it has already been subject to extensive scrutiny.

He said: “I thought the process was right and proper and had no grounds to believe it wasn't.

“The district auditor spent six weeks on this and his findings were absolutely clear.

“He said that the process was sound and felt that the level of pay, although not for him to comment on, is reasonable.”

The district auditor revealed in the report that he would not be referring the issue to court.

He said he felt it was, under the circumstances, not in the public interest, suggesting in his conclusion that he was mindful of “adopting a balanced and proportionate approach”, as well as considering “the potential cost to the taxpayer”.

However he said this stance could change should new information come to light or a challenge be made by a local elector.

Local electors who disagree with the auditor's decision not to refer the matter to court can lodge an objection within six weeks of the report being issued which requires the auditor to state in writing the reasons for the decision.

They can also appeal the decision to the court, a move that affords the court the same ruling powers as if the auditor had raised the issue themselves.

Kevan Lim, deputy leader of the county's Labour group, said his party will not be pushing for the matter to go to court because of the potential cost to the taxpayer.

He said: “When I discussed the issue with the district auditor he said one of the factors was that he didn't think the court would necessarily declare it unlawful because the amounts weren't large enough.

“It's a weakness in the current legislation in the sense that the district auditor has powers but it would cost the very people he is trying to protect.

“I don't think any taxpayer would appreciate us costing them lots of money to declare the expenditure unlawful even though it may well be.”

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