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Council’s next chair of taskforce will also be paid £1,000 a day

Borough defends previous outlay of £113,000 for 100 days of work


Previous chairperson: Rose Mary Stalker

Previous chairperson: Rose Mary Stalker

Previous chairperson: Rose Mary Stalker

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has defended paying £113,000 to an industry boss for 100 days work leading a manufacturing taskforce.

The amount paid to the taskforce’s first chairperson, Rose Mary Stalker, now chair of Invest NI, was revealed by acting chief executive Philip Thompson at a council meeting last week.

The council said the achievements of the taskforce included securing £60m in funding for the borough in the Belfast Region City Deal and organising a science summer school with TV scientist Brian Cox, due to take place in the autumn.

It has budgeted £1,000 a day for the next chair, who will replace its current holder Graham Whitehurst next year.

Recruitment has begun with a tender advert placed in the name of the council’s suspended chief executive, Anne Donaghy.

Mr Thompson had told the council the next chair would be paid £833 a day from a budget of £30,000, working three days per month over a year.

But the council has now told this newspaper that the rate will be £1,000 for a maximum of 2.5 days a month. Mr Whitehurst is also on a lower rate than Ms Stalker.

Defending the pay, the council said the taskforce was “a vital initiative established and funded by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, and the role of chair is essential to the success of the taskforce”.

“Elected members are fully supportive of this initiative and the need to have an industry expert and specialist to chair the taskforce.

“The significant responsibilities, remit and expertise required for this role are reflected in the remuneration, which is aimed at attracting the most outstanding candidates within the industry.

“The daily rates paid to the previous chair and the current chair are comparable and similar to remuneration for leading consultants in the market at present.”

The council said an independent review of the taskforce in 2019 recommended it should continue and be chaired by an industry representative.

And it said Ms Stalker was paid at a higher rate than her successors as the role covered a longer period “and required higher levels of input than the current chair’s role as this was a new initiative which was being established and therefore required a greater time commitment on the chair’s part”.

Mr Whitehurst provides 1.5 days a month in his role, “given that it is well-established, which is why the total amount of remuneration paid to him has been lower”.

It said there were now more than 50 major companies and members of the taskforce. And as well as helping secure City Deal funding, it had secured nearly £700,000 to develop a hydrogen training academy, among other achievements.

But East Antrim Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said some of the taskforce’s work was already done by the Department for the Economy.

“We need to ask if the taskforce delivers more than DfE agencies could, would or did,” he said.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI and a member of the taskforce, said Ms Stalker had been a success. “There’s a number of important projects which have started, successful responses to other difficult announcements, and a sense of direction. I doubt much of this would have happened were it not for the right leadership being in place.”