The highest paid officer at the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) received a whopping £268,000 last year, new figures reveal.
And for the last seven months, Weca has been paying not one but two chief executives at the same time, with the permanent incumbent on long-term sick leave and the other an interim on sky-high agency rates.
The combined authority’s annual accounts, which have just been published, show Richard Ennis earned £268,410 for three senior temporary roles he held from April 1, 2022, to March 31 this year.
That figure is what he received and does not include the additional money Weca forked out to a third party – likely to be a recruitment agency – for his services, which the papers do not disclose.
It includes £124,467 for the four months between December 1 last year and March 31, 2023, after he was appointed interim acting chief executive while the organisation’s top officer, Patricia Greer, was on extended leave through illness.
Weca has confirmed that it is still paying both as chief execs and that Dr Greer remains on sickness absence.
Mr Ennis was recruited as interim director of investment and corporate services, a position for which he received £143,943 from April 1, 2022, to the end of November.
He remained in that role but also became acting interim chief executive on December 1, earning £52,243, including £2,849 expenses but no employer pension contributions, until January 27 when he stopped carrying out his previous role to focus solely on the top job.
Mr Ennis was then paid £72,224, including £3,048 expenses, for just over two months’ work as interim chief executive up to March 31, the end of the financial year, which is as far as the annual draft statement of accounts go.
Dr Greer’s salary for the full year to the end of March was £164,682, plus £23,550 in pension contributions, giving a total package of £188,232.
Two other high-ranking interim officers are named in the accounts because they also earned more than £150,000.
They are Alistair Kirk, who was paid £188,257 as director of infrastructure from April 11 last year to the end of March 2023, and director of legal services Stephen Gerrard who received £139,858 plus £10,374 in pensions, a total of £150,232, for the full year.
As with Mr Ennis, the pay of both interims does not include the extra sums Weca gave to recruitment agencies.
In previous years, only one officer’s salary at the combined authority, which is led by Labour metro mayor Dan Norris, has ever exceeded £150,000, the chief executive’s.
The increase in the number to four in 2022/23 was because of the use of highly paid interims, which was previously criticised by both the then-Conservative leaders of South Gloucestershire Council and local government experts from Solace (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives), who have been called in to shake-up Weca and get its squabbling leaders to work better together.
An initial fact-finding report in February by Solace ahead of its full independent review, which will take months to complete, highlighted what was described as a “long list of fundamental flaws” in how the combined authority was set up initially and operates today.
One of its 17 recommendations was for the organisation to complete a management restructure to fill its “many” senior interim posts permanently.
Its report said that having top-level temporary appointees made it “difficult” for the three councils that comprise Weca – Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset – to make “meaningful relationships and build trust”.
“This is not a reflection on the calibre of the interim staff, but a fact of continuity,” the report said.
Asked to explain why such large amounts of money were paid to top officers in 2022/23, a Weca spokesperson said: “The interim posts were to fill vacancies in highly competitive candidate market conditions.
“The permanent post for director of infrastructure was filled in April 2023 and the permanent posts for the strategic director of finance and corporate services and the director of law and governance are currently in the process of recruitment.
“This will mean all of the senior management roles reporting to the CEO will be filled by permanent employees.
“Richard Ennis remains the interim acting chief executive.
“Patricia Greer is still being paid as chief executive whilst she is unwell.”