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Highland councillors brand education chief costs as 'completely unjustifiable'

By Scott Maclennan

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SNP co-leaders Cllr Maxine Smith and Cllr Ian Cockburn.
SNP co-leaders Cllr Maxine Smith and Cllr Ian Cockburn.

The SNP and Conservative groups on Highland Council have hit out at the appointment of a £936-a-day interim education chief.

Revelations that Paul Senior is to be paid £244,296 for the year has sparked anger among MSPs, councillors and members of the public, due to the size of his pay cheque and the manner in which the appointment was made.

To ensure the work of the council did not grind to a halt, shortly after lockdown it formed a so-called Gold command structure, where most decisions were taken by about a dozen officials and then scrutinised by around 10 leading councillors, including SNP opposition.

This gold group agreed a small appointments panel would select a new education boss.

However, towards the end of April it was decided that instead of this small panel, council chief executive Donna Manson and education committee chairman John Finlayson would make the appointment.

The SNP group’s co-leaders, councillors Maxine Smith and Ian Cockburn, said they were unaware of the huge sums involved.

Cllr Smith said: “The member gold team that met during the pandemic, of which we were part, agreed that they should keep looking for an education officer.

“After that we heard nothing until we were advised, after the fact, that someone had been appointed at such high cost.

“We were in shock, along with the rest of the councillors and the public.

“The administration in Highland Council will have a tough time persuading the public and government that the council is short of money when they are about to spend £250,000 on a wage for a new education consultant.”

Those claims were echoed by Conservative group leader Andrew Jarvie, who said: “I have a formal place on the recruitment panel and was originally invited.

“However, after I raised a number of concerns about it, I received no further invite or information about the interviews.

“The secrecy and feeling of being cut out for questioning a process must be one large reason why this council cannot attract people.

“I was utterly horrified to learn of this cost, especially after I seem to have been cut out of the recruitment process after I raised concerns.

“The cost is completely unjustifiable, the Prime Minister earns £415 per day which only further highlights the obscene fee of £936 per day.

“This is the only post which the council has struggled to fill, so the chief executive has serious questions to answer on how given her education background, this council can’t attract senior education staff.”

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