EERA recruitment bid criticised

Thursday, 2 August, 2007

MPs last night attacked a move by the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA) to spend almost £27,000 of taxpayers' money on a policy officer - despite the fact that the body will be abolished in 2010.

EERA yesterday advertised for the post, which will see the successful applicant based at the group's headquarters in Flempton, near Bury St Edmunds.

According to the advert, the role - which will be paid a wage of between £23,175 and £26,928 - will 'help ensure that EERA is able to effectively perform and develop its scrutiny function and partnership development work with a number of regional partners.'

It boasts that 'the post offers an excellent opportunity to demonstrate and apply an understanding of policy issues in a region at the very heart of the national growth and sustainability debate.'

But the move was criticised yesterday - as the Government announced last month that regional assemblies will be axed from 2010, with the existing Regional Development Agencies taking on their powers.

David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: 'Considering the Government will be closing this organisation down by 2010 because they see its usefulness as very limited, I can't see why the Chief Executive can't do policy work.

'I don't think it's very appropriate to incur these costs when existing staff should be able to oversee the rundown of this organisation without the need to keep the payroll going.

'I think any policy work that the Chief Executive of EERA cannot do could very easily be done by the armies of policy advisors at the regional development agency.'

And Bernard Jenkin, MP for North Essex, said the move 'raises eyebrows.'

He added: 'Obviously they have a role to play until they are abolished but there will be absolutely no excuse for spending money on publicity or justifying their existence.

'I would expect them to be winding down, but if they've got to run for another two and a bit years there may be certain jobs that require being filled.

'However, I would imagine the general policy would be a recruitment freeze. It raises eyebrows, but I hope that it will swiftly become clear what the long-term detailed arrangements for the transfer of their functions will be.

'I certainly don't want to see them using money recruiting.'

But, responding to the criticism, a spokesman for EERA stressed that the job was not new, but a replacement for someone who is leaving.

He added: 'The Regional Assembly acts as an independent voice for the region and has not been afraid to challenge Government on important issues such as the level of funding needed to support new house building and opposing a second runway at Stansted Airport.

'The Assembly will continue to fulfil its statutory functions until Parliament passes new legislation, which is currently not expected until 2009-10.'