Morale is at rock bottom’ at council

IAN CLARKE Staff morale at Breckland Council has hit "rock bottom" in the light of the saga over its ex-chief executive, big payments to consultants in top jobs and a revised pay scheme.

IAN CLARKE

Staff morale at Breckland Council has hit "rock bottom" in the light of the saga over its ex-chief executive, big payments to consultants in top jobs and a revised pay scheme.

Employees have told the EDP they are "fed up" with the way the departure of Becky Hellard was handled and especially the fact she got a £65,000 pay-off after resigning.

Many staff are eager to speak publicly to express their frustrations, but fear reprisals.

One employee - who asked to remain anonymous - said: "Morale is at rock bottom and so many people here are fed up with what's going on. The chief executive walked off with £65,000 without serving any notice and it was all hushed up and we are missing out with our new pay scheme."

Breckland branch secretary for Unison, Mark Broughton, said staff felt angry at the amount of public money being spent on consultants and the way council bosses treat rank-and-file staff.

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He said the authority was falling a long way short of government targets on consultant spending and cast doubt over whether performance targets were being met for long-term sickness.

At least three senior managers at Breckland are on long-term sick leave.

Consultant Keith Davis has been appointed temporary chief executive and also returning officer for the forthcoming local elections.

Mr Broughton said that Mr Davis was originally appointed on a three-month contract but has since been on the council's payroll for a year-and-a-half.

The chief executive's job is due to be advertised later this month and Breckland hopes to make an appointment by the end of March.

The EDP has been investigating the background to allegations made against Ms Hellard and her resignation and pay-off.

We have complained to Breckland about its response to a Freedom of Information Act request and will then contact the national Information Commissioner.

The EDP has also asked fresh questions about the legality of various decisions made by Breckland.

Mr Broughton said: "When people resign they do not usually have any kind of pay-off.

"It is a combination of things, there are a lot of undercurrents here and there is also the new pay scheme the council are bringing in.

He added: "The council have a heavy-handed approach.

"Their definition of consultation seems to be this is what is going to happen and here it is and not leave much chance for people to raise issues.

"People feel like they haven't got much control in the direction that their lives are taking.

"We do seem to have quite high levels of long-term sickness and it is something we have brought up."

Mr Broughton added: "I know of three people at service manager level or above who are off sick at the moment.

"Clearly there is a concern at the cost, particularly when there are a relatively high number of consultants we seem to have at the moment.

"This is public money and when we have consultants here for years not months it does raise concerns."

A council spokesman said staff were considered to be "long-term sick" after 15 working days of absence.

Currently 1.5pc of staff are on long- term sick.

Last year the number of staff retiring early at Breckland was double the target amount and the average number of days off sick was about six days per employee.