NORTH Ayrshire Council is set to splash out £250,000 on the three year salary for a digital officer to safeguard the local authority from cyber attacks.

Finance chiefs have defended the move and say it is a 'worthwhile investment' which will save the council money in the long run, amid a wave of criticism.

At a time of heavy spending cuts, Conservative councillor Tom Marshall asked if the quarter of a million pound outlay was necessary.

He added: "There is an additional cost of £160,000 next year to secure permanent funding for six temporary posts within the transformation team. Do we need this extra staffing?"

Finance director Mark Boyd, pictured, explained to the News that the additional investment is to protect the council from cyber attacks and online fraud, which has spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.

We recently told how the Scottish Environment Protection Agency suffered a cyber attack which caused a delay in the Rigghill Wind farm planning application being evaluated by North Ayrshire Council's planning committee.

Mr Boyd added: "Initially these specialist members of staff were employed on a temporary basis, but now we are looking at the option of taking them on permanently.

"Two of the main reasons are cyber security resilience and new way of working online during the pandemic.

"We have seen throughout this crisis the potential for fraud and cyber attacks, which have affected businesses, agencies and local authorities everywhere, so it is important we counter against that.

"The other thing is that we have had to strengthen our way of working through online virtual meetings and different ways of reaching out to the public.

"We have aligned a lot to Microsoft Office 365 and this financial investment will support out digital working environment.

"We are moving forward with a key programme of digital work and what that means for staff delivery. This will help ease the pressure while strengthening that process."

Councillor Marshall says the money could be better spent elsewhere.

He told the News: "I wanted to see extra support for the Health and Social Care Partnership and more funding to try and resolve mental health issues. There was scope for all of that but the council was not willing to take these things on board."