A CASH-STRAPPED council is under fire after appointing a new ‘head of people and talent management’ with a salary of £78,000.

Alison Lazazzera is due to join Durham County Council from North Tyneside Council, where she is currently head of human resources and organisational development.

The council’s corporate director of resources, John Hewitt, said in an e-mail to staff she would be a “great asset” to the authority and was chosen following a competitive recruitment process.

But independent County Councillor John Shuttleworth said the move cancelled out a saving it had made when former head of HR Kim Jobson took early retirement with voluntary redundancy last year.

Ms Jobson’s pay package topped £100,000 a year, with pension and other contributions, and she received a 21 per cent pay rise in 2009 following local Government re-organisation.

Cllr Shuttleworth said Ms Lazazzera was effectively a replacement for Ms Jobson, although bosses had told him they were different roles.

He also said head of corporate finance Jeff Garfoot had added Ms Jobson’s responsibilities to his job spec and had been overseeing the HR department, supported by another senior manager.

Cllr Shuttleworth said: “It worked for a year so why change it. It [the council] could quite easily have continued to save a substantial amount.

“Kim Jobson going was supposed to be a saving as the job is no longer there, but there is no saving if you employ someone else by creating a new post.

“The saving over five years could have been half-a-million pounds. Instead council tax payers have been shafted again.”

Referring to Ms Lazazzera’s new title, Cllr Shuttleworth added: “You can have some fun with that can’t you?”

County Councillor Mark Wilkes, who represents the Liberal Democrats on the authority, said: “The council need to be absolutely certain that any appointments such as this are necessary. This is especially true when we are talking about very high salaries.

“The top paid staff are earning more than many residents could ever dream of.”

The Northern Echo asked for details of Ms Lazzerra’s exact role, how it would differ from Kim Jobson’s and whether potentially costly new senior appointments should be made at a time of savage cost cutting elsewhere.

The council, which is aiming to save an estimated £41m by 2021/22, did not provide a direct response to these questions.

But in a statement John Hewitt said it had recently restructured its extended management team as it looked to improve ways of working in order to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Mr Hewitt said the council was operating in an unprecedented period of austerity and had reduced its management costs by 26 per cent since 2009.

He added: “The scale of change required over the next few years means we will need to transform the way we work and deliver services with less and less money.

“Our new head of people and talent management is central to our plans to develop our people and will lead on many aspects of our transformation programme.

“I am confident we have the structure and the people in place to deliver on the council’s ambitious plans whilst ensuring our people have the right skills and attributes to undertake their roles, often in difficult circumstances, as effectively as possible.”