Opera House pays `temp' pounds 750-a-day for two years

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THE TROUBLED Royal Opera House is paying a private consultant pounds 750 a day to run its finances. He has been employed on this "temporary" basis for nearly two years.

It makes Chris Samms, earning the equivalent of more than pounds 180,000 a year, the highest-paid employee in the subsidised-arts sector, earning more than his boss, ROH executive director Michael Kaiser, whose salary is believed to be about pounds 120,000.

Two ROH sources confirmed Mr Samms' salary. He was hired from a small specialist consultancy practice at Easter 1998 as a stopgap appointment while the House searched for a finance director. It is understood ROH figures have been haggling over what sort of finance director they want. Meantime, Mr Samms has continued to collect his cheque, more than double what a normally appointed finance director would earn.

It is not the first time the ROH has proved a generous employer. Two years ago The Independent disclosed that Sir Jeremy Isaacs, former general director, received pounds 10,000 a month for nine months after he left his post.

Sources at the ROH, which recently underwent a pounds 214m redevelopment, including pounds 78m of lottery funds, say Mr Kaiser and the ROH chairman, Sir Colin Southgate, disagree on the responsibilities a finance director should have. Sir Colin is understood to want a heavyweight expert; Mr Kaiser is thought to be arguing for a more junior figure so that he can continue to keep firm control over all areas of the ROH.

Whatever the reasons, the "temporary" appointment will soon be entering its second year. Mr Samms was appointed by Mr Kaiser's predecessor, Pelham Allen, himself a private consultant on a short-term contract. He has since left.

The ROH has had a troubled financial history. Last year a former chairman told a culture select committee that the House nearly suffered bankruptcy. At a performance by the Royal Ballet in the new opera house on Wednesday, Sir Colin said its finances had been put in order.

But the disclosure that the ROH spent two years trying to find a finance director comes at the end of a week that has dented that boast. On Tuesday a showcase production scheduled for next month was cancelled. The official ROH reopening gala is next Wednesday, before the Queen.

Last night a spokesman said the last time the finance post was advertised was the beginning of the year. "We are seeking to recruit and we have put the post out to headhunters. Mr Samms is employed as an interim manager in the role of finance director. We do not discuss salaries."