Andrea Hill: Media Demonisation or Greed Epitomised?
Controversy should be Andrea Hill’s middle name as she has been making news ever since she got the position of Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council but the saga seems to have finally concluded. Throughout her time in that role she caused deep resentment by trying to find the necessary £43m of savings for the council but refusing to take a pay cut on her £218,000 a year salary.
Less than this has been enough to turn the press against many others, but allegations of Ms Hill bullying and harassing colleagues emerged earlier this year along with alleged claims of ‘illegitimate’ expenses, adding fuel to the local authority fire. She has since been cleared of all ‘bullying’ allegations and the expenses have been shown not to be dishonest but still she is leaving her post with immediate effect.
It has already been stated that her successor should not expect such a high wage and extravagant lifestyle in an attempt to appease Suffolk residents; however, Ms Hill has not only been on fully paid extended leave since Easter but has also left with another full year pay. This will do nothing to console those angry at her wages to begin with and details have also been released of her extravagant spending whilst in the position – money spent on ‘self-portraits’ and luxury hotel rooms.
The media has been a talking point in particular over the last week with the closure of the News Of The World amidst the phone hacking scandal, but how much influence do the media really have? Influence with politicians is one thing but public perception is what truly matters.
The media targeted Ms Hill in a way that many would not believe, some even raising questions as to whether her alleged bullying tactics could have been a factor in the suicide of her colleague, David White, as well as asking if other colleagues got enough support in the wake of this. Although one blog offers a Defence of Andrea Hill based on Freedom of Information Requests about her job description, rights and obligations. Nonetheless, throughout this saga Ms Hill did not act or respond in her best interests. When asked to take a pay cut she refused, instead only freezing her pay for two years; the government itself recommended a 10% pay cut and, in keeping with a common but bizarre comparison, she was earning more than our Prime Minister throughout time at the authority.
On top of this, she angered many by attempting to justify her wage by stating her job was ‘high risk’. This caused a furore from families of local armed forces whose jobs are rightfully perceived as immediately high risk – all Ms Hill risked was her career reputation whereas many risk their life and health for our country.
Conservatives in the area will surely be relieved that a deal has been made and she is now a figure of the past as their leadership of Suffolk County Council had been questioned throughout. David Ruffley MP for Bury St. Edmunds (Suffolk) will be one individual personally satisfied about this saga coming to an end. Mr Ruffley has reportedly had to deal with the public wanting to talk about nothing but Ms Hill as reported by Tory volunteers in the area whilst door-knocking. As well as this, Mr Ruffley felt so strongly about Ms Hill’s salary that he even took the issue to Eric Pickles (Secretary of state for Communities and Local Government) in the House of Commons (the exchange can be read here).
All things considered the question remains; was Ms Hill simply a media target, a scapegoat for dissatisfaction of those high earners despite the recession? Or was she really deserved of all the negative press? One thing is for sure, the name Andrea Hill has left a tarnish on the reputation of Suffolk County Council which will not be forgotten in the foreseeable future!