Baxter: Headhunted education boss’ exit after just three months a ‘scandal’

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There is anger this week after councillors were prevented from quizzing Highland Council over the bombshell exit of its education boss after just a few months on an eye-watering salary.

There had been controversy after it emerged last month that Paul Senior was being paid £936-a-day as an education executive chief officer, or the equivalent of nearly £250,000 per year.

In comparison, Nicola Sturgeon’s entitlement as an MSP combined with her role as Scotland’s First Minister is £155,680.

The council confirmed last week that Mr Senior would now be departing the local authority as pupils return for the new school term next week.

Mr Senior only joined Highland Council in May from Hackney Council in London where he was in an education services management role.

The local authority had tried to recruit to the new post of Executive Chief Officer Education and Learning on two previous occasions without success before appointing Mr Senior after he was head hunted by an agency on behalf of the council.

The decision to go down the agency route was discussed at the cross-member panel in February, the interview and selection process was then carried out by a smaller panel due to Covid circumstances.

After news of Mr Senior’s impending exit broke last week, Councillor Andrew Baxter (Fort William and Ardnamurchan) did not hold back in his criticism, saying: ‘If it is true that he will have pocketed £45,000 for ‘getting our children back to school’ then this is an absolute scandal. If he works to the end of August the total bill to the council will be around £58,000.’

Councillor Baxter then lodged an emergency motion at the full council meeting on Monday, with the support of seven other members, calling for a verbal update from the chairman of the education committee on the appointment, the terms of employment, the key planned outcomes agreed at the commencement of employment, and the circumstances of Mr Senior’s departure.

However, Mr Baxter was left seething after council convener Bill Lobban refused to consider his motion.

Councillor Andrew Baxter.

Councillor Baxter told the Lochaber Times after Monday’s meeting: ‘It’s extraordinary that with just over a week to go before our children return to school, the management of our education department is in turmoil.

‘Yet, the Highland Council does not consider this urgent enough to allow councillors to receive an update at today’s meeting.

‘In fact the convener wouldn’t even allow councillors to know there had been a request to discuss this issue or to hear his reasons for refusing it. Instead, they will brief councillors at a secret meeting on Thursday.

‘The council used the cloak of Covid-19 to make decisions in secret and their behaviour makes it clear that they have no desire to operate in an open and transparent way. No questions, no discussion is the new motto in force at Glenurquhart Road.’

Confirming Mr Senior’s departure, a council spokesperson said the main focus of his work has been planning for the return pupils to education after the coronavirus lockdown.

‘Arrangements will be put in place for an interim ECO to lead on education until a permanent appointment can be made, recognising the challenges for recruitment of senior roles within the current circumstances across the UK,’ added the spokesperson.

Asked how much Mr Senior will have been paid for his brief stint with the council, the local authority said it could not comment on payment made to an individual.