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The Laz word... on Colin Hilton

Liverpool City Council's man at the top is offski. Now where have we heard that one before?

Published on May 17th 2010.

The Laz word... on Colin Hilton

COLIN Hilton’s exit as Liverpool’s chief executive means the city council has parted company with three top town hall chiefs in just over a decade.

The leader of the council and the chief executive must get along as a sort of double act, an Ant and Dec or a Cannon and Ball equivalent in the world of civic administration

And the goodbye-packages paid to Peter Bounds, Sir David Henshaw and now probably, Colin Hilton, add up to a sizeable amount to be shouldered by council tax payers.

Has the time come to offer highly-paid council executives a fixed term package so when the political landscape changes they graciously move on, at no cost to the taxpayer?

Their pay and pension packages could even reflect the contract period of their roles.

The reality is the leader of the council and the chief executive must get along as a sort of double act, an Ant and Dec or a Cannon and Ball equivalent in the world of civic administration.

When Mike Storey led the Lib Dems to victory in 1998, it was obvious the days of the top table management team were numbered.

Colin Hilton was a new boy at the council, coming in as education chief to rescue the schools’ service from being taken over by the Government. He succeeded.

Peter Bounds, then the council’s highest paid official (c£62,000pa), and LCC parted company.

The international search started for a high-power successor, and that global hunt for a superstar official ended in, of all places, Huyton. Liverpool born David Henshaw landed the job of transforming the city council at a salary reported to be higher than the wage picked up by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The highly public fall-out between Storey and Sir David (he had been knighted by the Queen) led to big changes. Storey stood down as leader, to be replaced by Warren Bradley, and eventually Henshaw left to be replaced by Colin Hilton.

Details of the exit packages paid to Bounds and Henshaw have never been published, and no doubt the sum likely to be paid to Hilton will also be kept under wraps.

In fairness to the three officers, it’s not their fault if the respective leaders and themselves don’t see eye to eye. You cannot fire somebody just because you don’t like them, or you don’t enjoy working with them, or even if the chemistry is wrong.

Indeed it is virtually impossible to sack a senior council officer; instead severance packages have to be negotiated.

One suggestion being mooted is to have an elected mayor who also does the job of council chief executive.

Such a person would hold the post as long as the majority of citizens felt he or she was doing a good job.

But public life being what it is, I’d put money on there being a clause in the small print saying of such an officer was defeated at the election box, he would wipe away his tears with a plentiful supply of crispy fifty pound notes.

A few years ago the pay packages of council executives took a quantum leap into the superstar bracket. This was based on the logic that if councils wanted to attract the best, they would have to dig deep into the civic trouser pockets.

It made Colin Hilton one of the country’s highest paid council officials – earning well over £200,000 a year.

How many people would accept a job, for say five years, knowing they’d earn a million quid and then pack their saddle bags, mount their horse and get out of town – no tears, no questions asked, no demands for a pay off.

The vast majority of council workers in Liverpool would have to clock on for 50 years to earn that golden million.

Meanwhile the search will start for Liverpool’s new Superman – or Superwoman – prepared to catapult the council to even greater things, provided the price is right.

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