Somerset County Council's leader has come out fighting in defence of the third of a million pounds it's costing to employ the man in charge of children's services.
Critics say the £750,000 being spent on three managers in Somerset is far too much. They were drafted in after an Ofsted report judged the service inadequate.
It's been claimed the head of Somerset's Children's Services, Peter Lewis, is one of the most expensive council employees in Britain. Mr Lewis costs £318,500 pounds a year.Two temporary deputies cost a further £422,500 pounds between them. The total for the three managers is £741,000.
To put that in context, if an agency fee of 10 per cent is taken off, and the agency says the exact figure is commercially sensitive, Mr Lewis would receive £287,000, more than twice the Prime Minister's salary of £142,000 pounds.
Over past few years there have been many protests as staff numbers at County Hall have been cut. There have been wage freezes and below inflation pay rises. So there's more anger that Mr Lewis works for a firm owned by him and his wife. His salary is paid into the company meaning he can pay tax on dividends at 21 per cent instead of PAYE at 45 and 40 per cent.
It's perfectly legal but the government has banned the practice in the Civil Service and in the NHS. We wanted to question Mr Lewis about his tax arrangements and to ask whether he chose to pay extra tax voluntarily but our request was turned down.
Penna tell me the use of limited companies by interim managers is standard practice and they say Mr Lewis is a highly skilled interim manager with 40 years experience and is highly regarded in the industry as a specialist in Children's Services.
Meanwhile Mr Lewis has now written to staff saying media interest shouldn't distract them from the important work they are doing improving child protection.