TAXPAYERS should be told why a council chief who earns more than the Prime Minister has been off work for nearly two months, it was claimed this week.

Somerset County Council chief executive Sheila Wheeler has not been seen in her office since late November – but staff at County Hall, Taunton, have not been told why she is away.

An initial statement said she was on “sick leave” and the council would not comment on “speculation”, but a spokesman this week said: “Sheila Wheeler is not in the office at this time.”

Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne has called on the Conservative leadership for an explanation.

He said: “She’s a highly-paid member of staff and it’s only right that local tax payers are getting value for this money.

“As well as the financial questions, there are also serious political issues that arise.

“The county council is making controversial cuts and isn’t showing enough leadership on issues like the development of Taunton, while at the same time being rudderless at the top.

“Residents deserve some answers and need this situation to be sorted out.”

Mrs Wheeler, who was appointed in 2009, has a salary of £160,000 – compared to £142,500 earned by David Cameron - meaning she has been paid over £20,000 during her absence.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance is calling on the council to “come clean” on why she has not been at work for so long.

Chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “The council need to come clean on why its chief executive isn’t at her post.

“Taxpayers foot a huge bill for Sheila Wheeler’s salary – it’s not fair on them or her for so many questions to remain about this sorry state of affairs.

“It’s vital the case is dealt with swiftly and fairly to ensure taxpayers’ money isn’t squandered paying a six-figure salary for someone not at their desk.”