HIGH officer salaries and improving the state of Dorset Council-owned sewage treatment works were among the issues in this month’s ‘sofa session’  with senior councillors.

Public questions on the hour-long social media event also included a call to improve NHS provision in Chickerell and questions over the funding for the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland Port.

Bus routes and 'green' housing issues were also raised by members of the public in the online question and answer sessions.

Council leader Spencer Flower defended six-figure salaries for many senior council officers saying that if the authority did not pay ‘the going rate’ it would be unable to attract, or retain, the key staff it needed in a nationally competitive market.

Cllr Flower said he was happy that the quality of the council’s services was reflected by the quality of staff it has.

“If we want to recruit the right people we have to pay the market rate… if we buck the trend (by paying less) we will lose people and that will affect services,” he said.

In response to a claim that Dorset Council owned 13 sewage treatment works , many of which were said not to comply with event basic standards, the council’s finance director Aidan Dunn said that £4.1m had been allocated in next year’s budget to deal with the issue with the authority now trying to be proactive, rather than reactive with assets it owns.

Other questions included support payments for the Bibby Stockholm barge, with a claim that council taxpayers money was being used.

Mr Dunn said that, so far, council tax money had not been used with the expenses being met from Government payments of £3,500 for each barge occupants and a £377,000 lump sum to help with support offered through the voluntary sector.

On more medical provision for Chickerell, Cllr Flower, said the council was working on trying to influence an improvement, but that the criteria made getting extra GPs difficult.

The leader also explained why it was financially difficult to subsidise more bus routes, claiming that a review in 2016/17 had discovered that many routes were little used, making the levels of subsidy the council was then paying, unjustifiable.

Mr Dunn said that in the coming year an extra £12m would have to be found to support public transport, often taxis, to get children with additional educational needs to and from school.

One questioner asked why new homes could not be covered with solar panels when they were built which led Portfolio holder for finance Cllr Gary Suttle, to say that, if he had his way every single one would be – but the Government’s planning rules did not allow for that the happen and there was nothing, currently, that the council could do other than try and persuade developers to include solar and other means of ‘green’ power into their schemes.

Mr Dunn said that a £19m Government grant had been used by the council to put panels, and make other energy saving measures, on as many of its own properties as it could with significant long-term financial and carbon savings.