Birmingham City Council’s cash-strapped education department, where mass staff redundancies are planned, is paying a recruitment agency the equivalent of £208,000 a year to hire a temporary schools chief.
It is costing the Children, Young People and Families directorate £1,000 a day to retain the services of Heather Tomlinson four days a week, who is the council’s interim Director for Transforming Education.
That is more than Prime Minister Gordon Brown is paid.
Councillors reacted with fury after discovering the unusual arrangements had been approved by city education director Tony Howell.
He has been ordered to renegotiate the deal immediately, or end Ms Tomlinson’s contract.
Just over a month ago Ms Tomlinson took early retirement from Bristol City Council, where her salary was about £120,000. When she left Bristol, she said it was time to quit a “particularly demanding role”.
Almost immediately she was taken on by Birmingham City Council through a private consultancy agency.
While the agency receives £1,000 a day from the council, the amount Ms Tomlinson gets from the agency is reduced after agency fees, tax and national insurance is deducted.
The cost is acutely embarrassing for the council’s ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition because the Children, Young People and Families Department recently issued redundancy notices to 1,300 staff.
Up to 2,000 council jobs are expected to go this year as a £75 million cuts package and a government public spending squeeze begins to bite.
If Ms Tomlinson’s contract continues to run at £4,000 a week, the cost to taxpayers over a year would be more than the Prime Minister’s £198,000 salary, and on a par with Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes, who gets paid about £210,000.
The decision to hire Ms Tomlinson was not initially referred to the council’s JNC panel, which has to approve senior officer appointments.
When the panel met a week ago, councillors were furious and made it clear that the arrangement had to end.
Although Ms Tomlinson was allowed to remain in post for the time being, city education director Tony Howell was ordered to negotiate a reduction in the agency payments or to scrap the contract. Deputy Labour group leader Ian Ward claimed the appointment of temporary staff was out of control.
Coun Ward (Lab Shard End) said: “We are paying £1,000 a day and allowing someone to work a four-day week, yet we are planning to make hundreds of people redundant. Someone needs to get a grip.”