Bristol Waste MD paid 'eye-watering' £224K for 10 months' work

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The top boss at Bristol Waste was paid an “eye-watering” £224,000 for just over 10 months’ work last year, new figures reveal. Dave Knight has been interim managing director of the city council-owned company since May 22, 2023, and remains in the role more than 12 months later.

His services at the helm of the firm cost a total of £224,203 in salary, fees and allowances between his start date up to the end of March 2024, according to the local authority’s recently published 2023/24 draft statement of accounts. A Conservative councillor has criticised the pay as “completely excessive”, while Bristol Waste says it is not out of the ordinary and “reflects the fact that the interim managing director is a turnaround specialist” to oversee big changes at the business.

The accounts say the amounts disclosed for interim staff, who are supposed to be temporary and are hired via a third party, usually a recruitment agency which takes a cut, are the “costs incurred by the company to secure the individuals’ services on this basis and not the amounts the individuals actually received, which will have been lower”. Meanwhile, Bristol City Council’s outgoing director of education and skills, Reena Bhogal-Welsh, cost council taxpayers more than £120,000 for the six months she was in the role as an interim, from February to July 2023.

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Her monthly salary then effectively halved to exactly £10,000 a month from August when she was appointed on a permanent contract, the accounts say. That gave Ms Bhogal-Welsh, who is now leaving for Liverpool City Council, a remuneration package of £176,226 from April 1, 2023, to March 31 this year, comprising £159,954 in salary, fees and allowances, plus £16,272 in employer’s pensions contributions.

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She was in charge of the department that received a massive government bailout in March when the Department for Education agreed to write off £53.8million to rescue the council’s spiralling schools deficit, caused because funding has not kept up with ever-growing costs of supporting children with special needs. The accounts show there were fewer interim senior officers – who command more money in exchange for not having paid holiday, sick pay or local government pensions entitlement – than in recent years.

Apart from Mr Knight and, for the first part of the year, Ms Bhogal-Welsh, the only others were Paul Day who cost the local authority £52,741 as interim head of IT operations from July to September 2023 – equal to a full-year, pro-rata rate of at least £211,000 – and the executive lead and interim group finance director of Bristol Holding, the council-owned parent company of the authority’s group of businesses, whose services cost £149,150, both of which included agency fees. Bristol City Council chief executive and head of paid service Stephen Peacock was on a £187,375 salary, including any fees and allowances, plus £38,088 in pension contributions.

He is leaving this week for the same role in charge of the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) where he will receive £205,000 a year. Among the salaries of the other top city council officers in 2023/24, executive director of adults and communities Hugh Evans earned £152,114 and executive director for growth & regeneration John Smith was paid £148,127.

Director of homes and landlord services Donald Graham received £152,464, director of management of place Patsy Mellor’s salary was £131,522 and the new executive director of the children and education directorate Hannah Woodhouse earned £22,921 from starting on February 5 to March 31, which is as far as the accounts go. Chief finance officer Denise Murray, who has since left, was paid £131,522 while the service director of legal and democratic services, monitoring officer Tim O’Gara, received £102,918.

The managing director of the authority’s housing firm Goram Homes, Stephen Baker, was on a £156,212 salary. The council also paid tens of thousands of pounds into these employees’ pension pots.

Lower down the pay scale, there was a huge rise in the number of council staff on at least £50,000 – up by 35 per cent from 362 in 2022/23 to 488 last year, excluding teachers and others who work in schools. The accounts say this is “largely down to nationally agreed pay awards that have inflated pay and moved the boundaries against these ranges”.

This is reflected in the big increase in the £50,000 to £54,999 salary band whose recipients went up from 138 to 267 staff in the last 12 months, while those between £80,000 and £84,999 more than doubled from 10 to 23. As reported, Bristol Waste finance and strategy director Chris Holme received a total remuneration package of £154,858 for eight months’ work from April 2023 to his departure last November when he was given a £65,100 exit payment, which is included in that figure.

Cllr Jonathan Hucker (Conservative, Stockwood), a qualified accountant and member of the audit committee, said: “The remuneration packages of the Bristol Waste interim managing director and the former finance and strategy director are eye-watering and it is difficult to see how this is justified by the performance of the company. My residents in Stockwood ward frequently find that their bins and recycling are not collected.

“Executive pay at this level is completely excessive given the company fails to provide a satisfactory service.” A Bristol Waste spokesperson said: “We can confirm that interim managing director Dave Knight continues to lead Bristol Waste Company during a period of turnaround and transformation and that the company is currently recruiting for a permanent managing director.

“Remuneration is in line with standard business practices and reflects the fact that the interim managing director is a turnaround specialist. As a company owned by Bristol City Council, salaries of Bristol Waste Company senior personnel are published within the Bristol City Council annual accounts.”

The council said it would not comment on individual contracts or terms of employment but confirmed the identity of some postholders not specifically named in the report.