Legal chief cost Lancaster City Council £80 an hour for 15 months

Lancaster general view'Lancaster Town Hall.
Lancaster general view'Lancaster Town Hall.

Lancaster City Council hired a temporary legal officer at a cost of more than £80 an hour for over a year, the Lancaster Guardian has learned.

An interim chief officer (governance) was employed via an agency for 15 months in 2016/17 at a cost of £80.99 an hour.

The council estimated that the total amount paid for the post, occupied by Anne Streeter, was £114,000 in that 15 month period.

The council is currently employing David Brown via an agency at a cost of £62.50 an hour to cover the post after its most recent permanent legal officer resigned less than five month into her employment.

The position has now been occupied by four different people in the space of two years.

Lancaster City Council chief executive Susan Parsonage said that the use of agency staff is not unusual in circumstances where specialist skills are required over a short period of time.

Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of the council, said: “Interim appointments of senior officers have in the past been a rare occurrence.

“Notwithstanding this, as part of the debate at last week’s full council meeting Labour councillors proposed that the cross-party personnel committee should review both the process used to recruit chief officers, including interim appointments, and also the council’s pay policy statement.

“The committee’s focus should be on agreeing upon any necessary changes and Labour councillors will not be using this issue as a political football.”

But Conservative Coun Charlie Edwards described the full council meeting last week as “a farce”.

He said: “The Leader couldn’t tell us what was going on with these appointments. Not a single Councillor has even seen the CV of our interim legal advisor. “Lancaster Labour say they run the council, but haven’t a clue what’s going on.

The Conservatives call for an urgent meeting with other local Councils to talk about sharing a legal team across two authorities, so we can save taxpayers money, not squander it.”

Ms Streeter was taken on for four days a week following the retirement of Sarah Taylor in February 2016. She was employed from June 2016 until September 24 2017.

Estelle Culligan was then employed on a permanent basis to lead the council’s legal team, and began in the post on September 11 2017.

She resigned less than five months later and left the council on February 23.

The full year cost to the council of this post was £85,510, with a salary of £66,805 plus costs including pension.

Currently, David Brown is carrying out the role on an interim basis.

Susan Parsonage said: “The council is currently considering the recruitment process for this post, and should be in a position to confirm the way forward over the next few weeks. The use of agency staff is not unusual in circumstances where specialist skills are required for a short period of time.

“Posts such as the Chief Officer (Governance) are highly specialised and require a wide variety of expert skills, including up to date knowledge of the law as it applies to local government. People with the distinct skill set needed are in high demand which makes their recruitment challenging and time consuming.

“At the same time it is a vital post within the organisation and to be without these skills, knowledge and experience for a long period of time would be to the considerable detriment of the council and the services it provides. It is therefore vitally important that while the recruitment process takes place the council is able to call upon skilled specialists to provide interim support.”