Published: 8 February, 2013
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
A SIX-figure salary is being offered to Westminster’s new “spin doctor” who will be tasked with “enhancing the reputation of the city council”.
The director of communications and strategy will be paid £125,000 a year and an advertisement for the position has been posted on the websites of “executive headhunters”.
But the move has been slammed by Labour politicians who criticised the decision to spend tax payers’ money on the vast salary while making cuts to front-line services.
Last month it emerged the council is planning to axe the entire £350,000-a-year arts budget which funds projects like Paddington Arts’ youth scheme and Westminster Mind’s programme for vulnerable adults.
The advertisement said the job was “pivotal in maintaining the council’s sovereign identity” and was key in “developing the corporate story for the council and driving the agenda of the city council.”
The successful candidate will replace the director of communications Alex Aiken when he leaves in March. Mr Aiken wrote an opinion piece in PR Weekly in 2009 about the salaries of top public servants, which said: “The need to demonstrate value for money is high on the agenda of all parties and PR may be an easy target.”
Leader of the opposition group, Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, said it was an “unnecessary job” and a “waste of tax payers’ money”.
He has urged local government minister Eric Pickles to intervene and stop the appointment.
He said: “The council says that it has axed its entire £350,000 arts and culture programme because the money was needed to pay for meals-on-wheels for the elderly.
“But now we find out that this is completely untrue and that there is £125,000 to pay for another expensive bureaucrat to supplement the already massive array of well-paid spin doctors working for the council.
“Westminster Conservatives must think the people of Westminster are all fools if they think they can get away with this outrageous and arrogant behaviour.”
Robert Oxley, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said that residents would question the decision to offer the six-figure sum.
He said: “Councils need to concentrate their resources on front-line services and spending on spin doctors must be kept under control. Given the size of Westminster Council’s communications department, residents will certainly wonder why this opportunity has not been taken to find some savings.
“Keeping council tax low and the quality of its services high is the best way for any local authority to maintain a good reputation among residents and in the media.”
A spokesman for the city council said they had saved £2million over the last two years by combining policy and communications across the council.
He said: “The post of director of communications and strategy is a major role which spans everything from support to councillors of all parties and developing policies that improve the quality of life for our residents to bringing in new sources of income.
“The communications and strategy department brings in a cash surplus to the council through the contracts it provides to other local authorities, in addition to the exceptional service it provides to Westminster.
“It clearly requires a senior figure with substantial experience who can tackle this complex job and secure new business opportunities.”