The axe finally came down today (Thursday) on Andrew Kerr, Wiltshire Council’s chief executive in charge of an £800 million budget, who has been made redundant by the Tory-controlled council’s cabinet.
He has been in post for only 18 months, earning a salary of £183,000 a year plus perks, and claimed responsibility for saving the council £18 million as it was forced to react to the government’s austerity programme.
Some £8 million of that came from sacking 220 council officers. Now Mr Kerr himself is to follow them as the council slashes a further £500,000 from its expenditure on senior management.
Council leader Jane Scott said: “Our decision today demonstrates that we will not avoid making tough decisions if we believe that they are right for our communities. We will now focus on delivering our business plan and what is needed for the people of Wiltshire.”
“We will always do what we believe is right for Wiltshire’s communities and if it means being a radical local authority which leads the way then that is what we will be.”
The cabinet also recommended the council to agree that the service director human resources will be designated the head of paid service. Other necessary changes to the constitution will be considered by full council on November 8.
The council claims that its radical senior management shake-up underlines its commitment to protecting vital services, but it also indicates not only a major row behind the scenes between Mrs Scott and 53-yer-old Mr Kerr but a significant shift of policy that puts the politicians rather than senior officers in total management control.
Nicholas Fogg, one of Marlborough’s two Wiltshire councillors, approves of the decision to axe Mr Kerr. He objected to his “excessive salary” when he was first appointed.
“It’s good that an air of reality is finally creeping in,” Mr Fogg told Marborough News Online. “If anyone is paid more than the Prime Minister at public expense, it has to be seriously justified.”
Jon Hubbard, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition, pointed out that it was only in February this year that Mrs Scott had defended Kerr’s six-figure salary and claimed how important he was to the council.
“Just six months later she is disposing of him,” he added. “If he was worth it then, then what has changed since?”
A £4m budget has now been set aside to pay out for redundancies, which will include the compensation paid to Mr Kerr, the exact amount initially secret until the annual accounts are published at the end of the year.
Wiltshire’s four corporate directors – Mark Boden, Carlton Brand, Carolyn Godfrey and Sue Redmond – all declined an invitation to attend today’s meeting. Mr Kerr was away in London and out of sight as he lost his job following a two-week consultation period.
The four directors will now have to contend for just three senior posts and have been told they will not receive any extra money for taking on the extra responsibilities that will be attached to the new positions.
Mr Kerr has been surprised by his removal from office, claiming in a BBC interview: “I believe that we’ve done a very good job and I believe that the chief executive in leadership model is the best for local government.”