TWO media professionals hired by Argyll and Bute Council to deal with press enquiries after it suspended three of its own communications staff were paid £250 a day each.

The self-employed communications chiefs, employed between February and August, were paid a total of £8059.

The figure has been described as embarrassing by the leader of the opposition, but defended by the authority as competitive.

The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the communications officers worked 32 days between them, creating an average fee of £250 per day. The equivalent salary would be £52,500, minus 30 days annual leave.

The two temps were drafted in to work for the council after it suspended communications manager Jo Smith, who is appealing her subsequent dismissal, and press officers Dinah Mackay and Janet West, who later resigned.

In a statement this week, Argyll and Bute Council said: "Daily rates were obtained which were found to be competitive. The amounts paid include travel and subsistence expenses."

Councillor Dick Walsh, leader of the opposition and leader at the time Ms Smith was suspended, said higher fees were often paid to get an immediate replacement. He said: 'It is important to have continuity of service." But added: "I was not aware that they were paid £250 – it's embarrassing to say the least."