Calls have been made for more cross-party involvement in the hiring of a new chief executive of Sunderland City Council.
Earlier this year, the council started advertising for a new chief executive as the two-year contract of current boss, Irene Lucas, drew to a close.
The successful applicant is set to earn £180,000 per year and will become one of the highest paid council bosses in Tyne and Wear.
With interviews set to take place this week, Sunderland’s Conservative group have criticised the hiring process over fears it’s becoming politicised.
Group leader, Coun Robert Oliver, said: “Both the longlisting and shortlisting of candidates will be done entirely by the leader and deputy leader of the council which appears to be a concentration of power in the hands of just two councillors.
“City residents, concerned with the lack of progress in Sunderland compared to the city’s neighbours, will want reassurance that a range of councillors have been involved in choosing the next person to head up the council.”
He added: “The appointment of the next chief executive of the council comes at a time when key development projects such as the Vaux site, the Seaburn seafront and the opening of the New Wear Crossing are at a critical stage.
“It’s the most important position within the council and commands a salary greater than that of the prime minister so it is essential that there is proper cross-party involvement in the appointment to get it right.”
Sunderland City Council’s leader, Graeme Miller, responded: “Senior members of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition groups serve on the council’s Human Resources Committee, which oversees employment matters.
“The committee’s work includes the recruitment and selection processes for senior council officers.
“In February, the Human Resources Committee including Coun Peter Wood (Conservative), approved the timetable and arrangements for the recruitment of the council’s next chief executive.
“The Human Resources Committee will interview candidates and a report and a recommendation on the appointment of the council’s new chief executive is due to be made at the full council on Wednesday 20 June.”
A total of 12 councillors sit on the Human Resources Committee split between 10 Labour seats, one Conservative and one Liberal Democrat.
Leader of the council’s Liberal Democrats group, Niall Hodson sits on the committee and said it was important that the process involved cross party representatives.
“It’s a very significant appointment at a very challenging time for the city and needs to have the backing of all parties on the council as well as the council officers,” he said.
If the recruitment process is successful, the new chief executive could be starting in late summer or autumn.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service