Councillors agreed the new terms and conditions this week as part of the process to replace outgoing CEO Dr Phil Norrey, who is retiring after 16 years.
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He is entitled to around £175,000 a year but currently earns just over £160,000 after taking a reduced salary and declining pay rises for a number of years.
A council report concluded a pay rate of “circa £200,000 would be required to attract and retain” Dr Norrey’s replacement, explaining that “salaries generally within the council have not kept pace with others in the public sector.”
It explained the pay rate is now “substantially out of kilter” to chief executives of similar sized local authorities.
Several councils pay more than £200,000, including Surrey, Hampshire and Gloucestershire. Neighbouring Somerset County Council this week appointed a new CEO on £195,000 a year.
But senior Liberal Democrat councillor Alan Connett, leader of the opposition until earlier this year, criticised the Devon increase at this week’s full council meeting – calling it the “wrong thing to do”.
“As we all know, there is a cost-of-living crisis out there. My view is that the chief officer on £175,000 is probably quite well….able to cope with life,” he said.
However, most councillors voted for the rise despite several opposition members from the Lib Dems, Labour, Green Party and Independents voting against.
Justifying the increase, the council report added: “Recruitment and retention is an increasing challenge for all authorities, and, at a senior level, there is a relatively small pool of appropriately qualified and experienced individuals.”
Dr Norrey is retiring at the end of August. Former county solicitor Jan Spicer will become interim chief executive until a permanent replacement is appointed.
The new pay package does not include the interim role.