Unions representing thousands of Cardiff council workers have been united in their shock and anger at plans for Boris Johnson’s ex-special advisor to take temporary charge.
The GMB union launched a scathing attack after the revelation, saying Labour’s election victory last year was the “worst thing to have happened to Cardiff council”.
Unison said it was “appalled” at the use of taxpayers’ money on a highly-paid external consultant when the authority has two senior managers with chief executive experience in its ranks.
The Labour cabinet wants Sir Peter Rogers, a former adviser to the Mayor of London and chief executive of the London Development Agency, to take the helm from July for at least three months.
Sir Peter, whose salary would be paid by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), will be the council’s most senior official as interim “head of paid service”, but is unlikely to work full-time.
He will help with the search for a permanent replacement for outgoing chief executive Jon House, who is joining PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Councillor Russell Goodway, cabinet member for finance and economy, today said the cabinet had decided it needed support “to see through its improvement agenda”.
He said people didn’t understand the scale of the challenge Labour faced when it inherited control, with schools on the verge of special measures and some aspects of social services considered “dangerous”.
Coun Goodway said the WLGA offered the services of Sir Peter, adding: “I didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
But GMB branch secretary Ken Daniels said: “Cardiff is the laughing stock of the 22 local authorities in Wales – it’s absolutely disgraceful.
“We are going to oppose it as much as we can. We are already paying for Andrew Kerr and Sheila Lock, who are both former chief executives, as well as other chief officers who could have acted-up at little extra cost.
“This was all kept top secret. This is the most secretive cabinet since Winston Churchill’s war rooms. Whoever is making these decisions has got to be held to account.
“The way my members and I feel is that to have a Labour council back in is the worst thing to have happened to Cardiff – that is how bad it has got.
“It is the first time I have ever had to attack my own party like that, but you could not write this as a comic strip.”
Mr Daniels and Unison’ regional secretary Steve Belcher both said they would support Andrew Kerr, currently the council’s corporate director of operations, taking charge in the interim.
It comes just weeks after the Labour-run council appointed 11 new top-tier directors, including eight external candidates, each on £120,000 to £130,000 a year.
The restructure adds £1.1m to the wage bill, but Labour insists there will be no extra cost as the £3.6m previously spent each year on management consultants will be reduced.
Mr Belcher added: “Where-ever it’s coming from, it’s still public money. We are, quite frankly, appalled that the council, in light of what they have previously said about consultants, are now engaging a consultant for this job.
“If he has been an adviser to a reactionary Tory Lord Mayor it should set alarm bells ringing at the Labour-run Cardiff council.”
GMB, Unison and the teachers’ union NASUWT have co-signed a statement calling on the Labour cabinet to reject the proposal and promote an existing member of staff to the temporary role.
Council leader Heather Joyce will be questioned about the changes by the Employment Conditions Committee on Wednesday after the plan is rubber-stamped by the cabinet.
Final approval for the interim post will have to be given by the full council on June 27.