A SENIOR officer has been chosen to be the new chief executive of Waltham Forest Council.

Martin Esom, who is currently the acting chief executive, has been recommended for the role by a panel of councillors and will take up the post pending approval by full council.

Mr Esom, who has a close working relationship with the Labour leadership, is an experienced officer with a long history at the council - but his appointment may prove controversial.

Both his pay and performance in previous posts at the authority have come under criticism, and he was also a senior officer during a time when rules to prevent fraud were regularly ignored at the council, although there is no evidence to suggest he was involved.

Earlier in his council career, when he held the post of executive director of environment and regeneration, he was criticised over the quality of his department's street cleaning service.

His appointment as the temporary head of the council's troubled housing body Ascham Homes in December 2009 also proved controversial.

Unison's Waltham Forest branch criticised the move, claiming it was a conflict of interest for him to hold the post while he was also deputy chief executive of the council.

And in March this year he was among members of staff attacked by the Taxpayers' Alliance over his pay packet.

It was revealed that in the 2008/09 financial year he was the highest-paid council officer at the authority, earning £141,554 in pay and expenses in his role as deputy chief executive.

The Guardian understands that two other candidates were also in the running for the job, although one later pulled out.

Mr Esom is expected to receive around £200,000 per year as chief executive.

He replaces former chief executive Andrew Kilburn, who was given more than £356,000 by the council on his departure earlier this year.

The council said Mr Kilburn left the authority by mutual consent, although the Conservatives claim he was ousted from the role by council leader Chris Robbins.

Confidential documents seen by the Guardian revealed that Cllr Robbins decided that Mr Kilburn should leave following a breakdown in the working relationship between the two.

Speaking of the appointment, Cllr Robbins said: “I'm very pleased to announce that the panel agreed unanimously to appoint our current acting chief executive.”

He added: “This allows us to start to move on [from Mr Kilburn's departure].”

In a statement, Mr Esom said: “I’m looking forward to taking on this role and am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to do so.

“Like every other local authority Waltham Forest is operating in uncertain times, but we have already proven ourselves able to meet difficult challenges head-on in order to improve the lives of our residents.

"This resilience is an attribute I will be looking to draw upon as chief executive and something I know will help see us through the challenging times ahead.”

Cllr Robbins added that the recruitment process was national and "highly competitive".

He said: "Martin has an excellent track record and never been afraid to tackle difficult service areas in order to turn them around to the ultimate benefit of our local community.

“Considering the unprecedented financial times we are facing this is exactly the kind of leadership we need if we are to make every penny count whilst protecting the services that matter most to our residents.”

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