‘Interim-gate’: Leader defends handling of council finances record amid agency staff salary revelations
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Islington Council’s leader has defended the administration’s handling of town hall finances in the wake of revelations about the salaries of agency staff.
The council faces an estimated £36million funding gap but, as reported by the Gazette last week, interim staff are being paid up to £900 a day.
During a leader’s questions via Facebook Live on June 12, council leader Richard Watts was asked whether it this newspaper’s report was accurate.
Cllr Watts said: “All of that was actually last year and agency spend has come down significantly since then because we are managing the council’s finances effectively, but we have got massive financial hole caused by the Covid crisis.”
But the Gazette has seen evidence that senior agency staff are still being paid up to and around £900 a day in the current year.
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As previously reported, some senior interim workers are being paid more than £100 an hour.
Two of Islington’s highest paid interims worked at Waltham Forest Council at the same time as Islington’s current chief executive, Linzi Roberts-Egan.
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Last year, a senior officer was paid an agency-inclusive rate of £1,489 per day while covering for Ms Roberts-Egan before her arrival in September - the equivalent of a £325,355 annual salary.
Eight senior interim employees were paid rates by Islington Council which would have equated to £1.5million over a year, according to figures seen by this paper.
Ms Roberts-Egan is paid £180,000 a year – £20,000 more than predecessor Lesley Seary received.
A number of Labour councillors, including those on the policy and performance scrutiny committee, are unhappy with the agency worker wage bill.
Sole opposition councillor Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) said: “It is particularly worrying that there has been no scrutiny since January of high paid interim staffing decisions when council budgets are so stretched by the ongoing crisis.”
Former Lib Dem Islington Council leader Terry Stacy MBE said: “It’s extremely unhealthy for a council to become so dependent on interims and temporary staff that are costing the council tax payer an arm and a leg.”
An Islington Council spokesperson said: “Islington Council fully supports permanent recruitment across the council, and makes permanent appointments whenever possible. Interim appointments are sometimes made to cover a vacancy while permanent recruitment takes place.”
Campaigners have questioned why the council is paying so much for interims despite the financial implications of Covid-19.
The council estimates it will have a £36million funding gap this year.
It expects to face additional costs of £24 million this financial year due to the delivery of the local response to the health crisis, combined with an estimated loss of income totalling £50 million.
Government grants to help offset these extra costs have so far totalled £15.575 million, leaving a gap of around £58 million.
On the impact of Covid on council coffers, finance chief Cllr Satnam Gill said: “The council has done well to come in with an £8 million underspend last year, thanks in no small part to the competence and diligent work of our senior officers across the departments in what were already very difficult times, 10 years into the government’s austerity drive.
“Under normal circumstances that would have shored up our financial position, and while it will undoubtedly help, the impact of coronavirus has been unprecedented, hitting our income at the same time as the surge in demand on services increases our costs.
“Our budgets will be under the greatest pressure this financial year, with the longer-term impact less certain and more difficult to predict.
“The financial impact of this crisis is simply too great for any local authority to shoulder; we have been prudent with our financial management and yet still face a funding gap this year of £36million, which our reserves do not cover.
“The government needs to do the right thing and urgently fulfil its promise to do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect the vital local services our residents rely on, and help us to keep people safe.”
Ms Roberts-Egan was approached for comment.