Council chief Andrea Hill quits Suffolk Council

Andrea Hill Image copyright bbc
Image caption Former chief executive of Suffolk County Council, Andrea Hill, has stepped down

It came as no surprise to anyone that Andrea Hill was leaving Suffolk County Council after an investigation into 'whistleblowing' allegations.

The Dismissals and Appeals Committee accepted that "there was no dishonesty in the claims made" and that allegations of bullying and misuse of expenses were unfounded, but as the council statement put it:

"The significant media attention attached to Mrs Hill has become a distraction and both parties accept that with new political leadership of Suffolk County Council in place, it is better to allow the organisation to move forward with new managerial leadership."

MPs and Government ministers are relieved.

For the last year the issue of Andrea Hill has dominated the debate over council reform.

'A distraction'

"How could we tell people that councils had to tighten their belts when we had a chief executive on £218,000 refusing to take a pay cut," said one Suffolk MP.

David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, is more blunt: "She had become a distraction.

"During the local elections in May every door I knocked on wanted to talk about Andrea Hill and executive salaries. There was real anger and fury on the doorsteps."

Another Suffolk MP has told us that he believes Andrea Hill cost the Conservative party three local elections in Suffolk.

"She became the story," says Dr Dan Poulter, the Conservative MP for Suffolk Central, "and when your chief executive becomes the story, it's time to move aside."

Sense of drift

The Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles is said to be pleased that Mrs Hill has finally gone and he's let it be known that he expects the salary of the new chief executive to reflect the straightened economic times that we are in.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles is said to be pleased that Andrea Hill has left Suffolk County Council

The Brentwood MP would also like to see the new chief executive's salary approved by the whole council.

Work has already started to find a new chief executive.

The new County Council leader, Mark Bee, is keen to see someone in place quickly as he feels there's been a sense of drift at the council over the last few months.

There is talk of perhaps appointing an interim chief executive to cover the rest of the year while a more long term appointment is made.

Rebuilding trust

David Ruffley believes there has been a breakdown of trust between the Suffolk public and the County Council; it's a relationship that must now be rebuilt.

He thinks the next chief executive should come from Suffolk.

"It would show that they understand and care for the county," he says.

Whoever takes the job will have their work cut out: the council needs to save £125m over the next four years.

The "New Strategic Direction" which was going to outsource or "divest" (as the council liked to call it) so many public services may have been scrapped, but big and controversial cuts are going to have to be made, and sold to the Suffolk public.

The new person will have to show that it is possible to hire a chief executive on a much lower salary and still deliver a very good service.

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