8 January 2009
DO YOU think any private company in the land would allow themselves to fork out £162,000 pro rata for a prime job in its organisation that can only be half done?
If it did, it would not be around for long. However in the world of the civil service and local government, money appears to come second to the endless rounds of red tape. The news this week that the position of Director of Regeneration at Southwark Council has been held for a year by a part-timer employed by an agency is nothing short of ludricious.
Forty per cent of Southwark is currently under regeneration. The borough is witnessing some of the largest regeneration projects in the country, including the multi-billion pound revamp of the Elephant & Castle and it is in one of the most attractive locations in the world. Southwark is not in some backwater where no one wants to work or live. It is at the heart of one of the world's biggest and most vibrant cities. Yet, we are expected to believe that the job is so hard to fill, that town hall bosses have had no other option but to leave the position on an interim basis since former chief Paul Evans left back in January 2008 - that Southwark have not been able to find anything better than to put someone in the position for just three and half days a week and pay an agency £650 a day for the privilege.
After the 'News' put in a Freedom of Information request to find out this astonishing truth, Chief Executive Annie Shepperd argued: "With the multi-billion pound regeneration of the borough moving at full steam ahead, it is impossible to understate the importance of this job to the quality of life and prosperity of local people. The job holder is also responsible for the council's planning and economic services, community housing and housing strategy, and the person is responsible for managing over 600 staff. The role was advertised last summer but no appointment was made - hence the continuing need for an interim manager."
We could not have put it better. The importance of this role to the future of the borough is tremendous. Yet for a whole year the position has been left without a permanent full time person and you have to wonder what damage it could be having on the current and future plans for so many of the projects, which have already started. Projects that effect the way whole communities live their lives.
It would be nice to believe that Southwark is so committed to finding the right man or woman for the job that they have searched high and low, and have pulled out all the stops to get some kind of regeneration genius on board, but we doubt it.
The fact that the council have opted in the interim for such an inefficient and costly way of filling the post is outrageous. Regardless of the calibre of the incumbent, this is a position that demands full-time attention.
It is outrageous when you take into account that neighbouring boroughs Lambeth and Greenwich and Westminster in the City all employ full time executives for their top regeneration post for less money. And that while Lewisham has to employ an interim boss, it has managed to get a contractor on a full-time basis and pay less, between £130,000-140,000 a year.
It is outrageous when you look at the bigger picture and take into account the amount of money Southwark Council spends on agency staff each year. Last September we reported how £16.1 million had been spent on agency staff which was to culminate in £32.5 million being spent in the whole financial year. An overspend the council admitted and vowed to cut.
It is an outrageous when you think back to stories already covered in this paper. Stories like the two Southwark Council housing workers in January last year, who were paid out redundancies and just after one day found themselves back in the department - this time being employed by an agency.
And it is outrageous when you take into account the cuts and closures that have taken place or are under threat because of a shortfall in government funding to the council.
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