Devon County Council witholds payment to LEP over CEO 24% salary increase

Owl says: treat the LEP’s comments about the size of its investment with tons of salt, ask for a REAL breakdown of the figure, particularly all expenses related to Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset.

Politicians from across the political spectrum have joined forces to condemn a publicly-funded local enterprise partnership for giving its chief executive a £24,000 pay rise.

Devon County Council has withheld £10,000 of the funding it gives to the Heart of the South West LEP after Chris Garcia, its boss, took a 26% pay rise. Eight Devon district councils have each held back £1,000 in protest.

The LEP was one of six set up in the South West in 2011 to replace the regional development agency (RDA), which was abolished by the incoming coalition government.

Its chief executive’s pay leapt from £90,729 to £115,000 in January, voted through by business representatives on the board in the face of fierce opposition from local authority members.

John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, told a meeting of the full council that Plymouth was the only council on the board which supported the increase. He said the LEP should be called in for scrutiny after Thursday’s local elections “to ask them to justify their existence”.

Alan Connett, Devon Lib Dem leader, asked councillors to pull out of the partnership “until common sense prevails with regard to top management pay increases”.

He told last week’s meeting: “To award a £24,000 pay rise was obscene in the circumstances, at a time when teachers, nurses, doctors and the public sector generally had been under restraint of low or no pay rises for years.”

Coun Hart said the council should take no further action because it had gone past the point where anything could be achieved. He said the RDA was a body that was strong and represented the whole region, and it had some clout behind it. “The six LEPs are six mini-RDAs,” he said.

Coun Hart said the Government put up £189 million to be shared among the six LEPs. “The initial allocation for Devon and Somerset was abysmal. It did improve, but at the same time it’s not much in relation to what was being asked for,” he said. “Now, unfortunately, a decision has been taken by the LEP which is beyond our control, but I think it’s right that we show that we are not happy with what’s going on.”

Coun Hart said some of the money allocated in the second tranche of funding still had not been spent, while the third tranche was on the way.

Exeter Labour county councillor Rob Hannaford said: “The time for this body to be abolished has clearly come.”

A LEP spokeswoman said: “We look forward to working with the confirmed leaders of the local authorities following the elections and working with them on how we can together increase productivity and prosperity for all in Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay.”

She said the LEP had brought in £722.70 million investment and that the LEP was spending tranche two.”