THE near £600,000 cost of employing two temporary bosses to turn around Somerset’s failing children’s services has been branded “astonishing”.

The salary and agency fees for Peter Lewis, an interim director at County Hall since 2013, total £318,500 – compared to the Prime Minister’s £142,500 salary.

His interim deputy Kate Lovell’s pay and agency fees add up to £275,000.

It is seen as a slap in the face for staff, who recently went on strike over pay as the council slashes £18million from its budget and job have been axed.

The remuneration for Mr Lewis, who was hired through an agency after being employed in a similar role at Haringey Council in the wake of the Baby P scandal, is among the highest for a local authority employee in the country.

He was employed after OFSTED judged Somerset’s children’s services “inadequate”.

The Unite union’s Nigel Behan said: “It seems excessive that senior managers get accelerated pay increases while everyone at the bottom has an 18 to 20% real terms pay cut over four years.

“It widens the gap and is disappointing.”

Cllr Jane Lock, LibDem Opposition leader, said: “His fees would employ an extra 10 social workers alone.

“There are currently 40 vacancies in frontline social services, staff are demoralised and worried about the lack of direction, information or support.”

Independent councillor Mike Rigby said: “I find this level of remuneration astonishing at a time of supposed austerity.

“I know the service hasn’t been running well in recent years, being rated by OFSTED as ‘inadequate’ and that drastic action is required, but I question whether the improvements seen in the service are commensurate with the salaries being paid here.”

A county spokesman said Mr Lewis was appointed to ensure the safety of children following two damning OFSTEDs.

He added: “We took the decision to invest in high-quality temporary directors with a proven track record to ensure that improvement was immediate.

“We are pleased to see improvements have been made since the appointments and we are now in a position to advertise for full-time replacements for the two positions.

“We have also significantly boosted numbers of social workers in this crucial area as well as increased the budget.

Somerset County Council quite rightly puts a premium on our children’s safety.”

*Somerset County Council was accused of paying “bloated” salaries earlier this year when it emerged 15 posts were costing taxpayers more than £96,000 each.

Top of the list was former chief executive Sheila Wheeler, who was on £160,000 plus pension contributions of £21,600.

She has since left “by mutual consent” with a £40,000 pay off after being on paid leave for three months and now works for an anti-trafficking organisation based in India.