Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The martyrdom of Martin Hone

A COUNCILLOR made an attack on Thurrock Council during last week’s full meeting of the local authority, slamming it for the treatment of a senior officer who has been made redundant. Corringham and Fobbing Conservative Cllr Mark Coxshall spoke out during a debate on senior management appointments, one of which was expanding Head of Corporate Finance Sean Clark’s role to be the Council’s Section 151 officer.

That position is a legal requirement for any local authority and with it comes responsibility for reporting any unlawful financial activity involving the authority (past, present or proposed) or failure to set or keep to a balanced budget. The Section 151 officer also has a number of statutory powers that grant him a degree of independence.

The role was previously part of the remit of Director of Finance & Corporate Governance Martin Hone, but he is about to be made redundant from his position, which pays more than £125,000. Though no discussion took place about the exact salary, Mr Clark’s new salary will be less than £100,000.

Several councillors spoke warmly about Mr Hone, but Cllr Coxshall didn’t mince words when voicing his opinion. He said: “I think this Council has treated him shabbily and disgracefully. I thank him for all the work he has done for the Council and it is a shame the way this Council has behaved.”

The debate would have widened into a further discussion on the appointment of Lucy Magill to the permanent post of Director of Environment, which carries a salary of £103,000, but this was deferred as Council leader Cllr John Kent announced it was not yet confirmed it was an accurate figure and he didn’t want to put inaccurate information before councillors.

However, that didn’t stop several councillors making comment on officer pay in general, led off by Tory finance spokesperson Cllr Barry Johnson who said: “I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendation of Sean Clark as 151 officer, but in 2010 this Council cross party called on all senior officers from heads of service and above, to take a five per cent reduction in remuneration following the lead of elected members of the Council.

“Due to then contractual promises this was not possible.

“Unfortunately tonight we were to be asked to add another member to the Council’s £100k club. We are already in the top 40 club nationally for most staff paid over £100,000. I simply could not have sat here and agreed to adding member number 15

“The austere times are still here and this is an ideal opportunity to bring a new contract to fruition. I would have recommended the appointment of a new Director of Environmental Services on a maximum of £97, 850, this representing a five per cent cut.”

A similar view was put forward by Tory Cllr Mike Revell. He said: “There used to be a cry from the public sector for comparability with the private sector because they thought they were being underpaid. I think it would be quite instructive for the public sector to compare with today’s private sector where the rates of pay have not gone up.”

The debate then returned to the Section 151 officer appointment, which drew further tributes for Mr Hone.

Cllr Kent said: “Martin is one of life’s good guys. I thank Martin for all he has done and wish him good luck,” while Cllr Martin Healy said: “He really went out of his way to make sure everyone had the facts.

“Martin and I have had many discussions about finances and have always found him to be approachable and friendly.

“It doesn’t matter how long you stay, it’s the impact you have. There is no point in being around just to be around and Martin has had an impact that that has been positive and I am sure he will do very well in the future. “
Cllr Phil Smith brought politics into the debate when he said: “”We have to balance budgets, Martin is not the only one good member of staff we have had to lose – all because of the Conservative Government cuts. Martin I am sorry to see you go. “

In turn that brought a riposte from Tory Rob Gledhill who said: “Martin has been exceptionally fair and even. It is an awful shame he is going and also a shame that someone has decided to make this about austerity and Government cuts.

He drew comparisons between the rise through officer ranks of Ms Magill, saying: “It seems to be strange that we are getting rid of a chap who makes sure the money is there and at the same time someone else, though equally important, gets pushed to the forefront as Martin has been pushed out.”

After the meeting Cllr Johnson took the attack on the Labour group further, issuing a statement which said: “The number of Council top earners is spiralling upwards, while money available to the Council is decreasing.

“Thurrock should be reducing the top tier of management, and not filling vacant posts is the easiest way to do this. What money there is available in the environment budget would be better spent sorting out the bin collection mess, recruiting more Trading Standards officers, or ensuring a more prompt gritting service come winter.

“Hard pressed local residents will struggle to understand why we need to spend a six-figure sum on yet another person for the £100k club.”

That prompted a robust response from Cllr Kent, who condemned Cllr Johnson for deliberately misleading people with his “untrue” comments.

He said: “Thurrock Council has been working to cut the costs of senior officers. We have done this by streamlining structures and sharing some senior officers with other authorities. Cllr Johnson is not just playing with words and figures when he says Thurrock Council employs 14 officers at a rate of over £100k. He is manipulating the facts to mischievous ends.

“The Council’s senior wage structure is not a secret, it is published on the Council’s website and following Martin Hone’s departure we will have just seven officers whose salary is more than £100K and don’t forget our chief executive‘s salary is split with Barking and Dagenham Council.

“These are the facts and what Cllr Johnson says is simply untrue and he knows it.”

1 COMMENT

  1. This is political – Labour will get rid of the very senior officers employed by the previous Conservative administration and the Conservatives if they ever regain control will try and dump those employed by Labour.

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