The salaries of senior council
officers have become a bigger and bigger issue in recent months. Not
only do some seem to be unreasonably high, but the allocation of pay
rises and bonuses all too often seems to have little in common to the
actual performance of the organisation they are running.
The most recent case to hit
the headlines is that of Stephen
Halls, Chief Executive
of Three Rivers District Council in Hertfordshire. Mr Halls, who earns
£116,000 a year, has just been allowed to reduce his working week from
five days to four but has not seen any resulting reduction in his salary.
Effectively, he has had a 20%
pay rise, added to which there will be a bill for outsourcing some of
his previous responsibilities, but the councillors in charge don’t
seem to see anything wrong. Somehow, they have ended up feeling grateful
on the basis that if they had refused to agree to the arrangement they
might have lost Mr Halls altogether.
The lobbying that seems to
have gone on at Three Rivers is astounding – somehow, these councillors
have become convinced that they have literally no option other than
to accept less work for the same amount of money on the threat that
their Chief Executive may depart.
All too often councils seem
to be lacking the bravery to say "No, enough is enough" when senior
officers demand higher and higher pay. Why, for example, did Newham
decide to award Joe Duckworth (immortalised as "Vera" in his regular
appearances in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column) a record
breaking £240,000 a year when they hired him as their Chief Executive
in April, despite his previous council – Isle of Wight – having seen
no improvement on the two star performance during his incumbency?
Whilst in theory senior officers’
pay is based on the good principle of pay by performance, in practice
it seems to be a constant upward ratchet. Senior salaries have soared
in recent years to the extent that the latest Town Hall Rich List found 818 officers earning over £100,000
a year – up from a mere 645 the previous year. And yet local government
is not an industry which has been performing particularly well – council
tax has doubled in a decade, bin collections are being cut back, charges
and fines are up and a billion pounds has been unwisely invested and
potentially lost in the Icelandic fiasco.
Any business that doubles its
prices and fails to improve or even reduces its service would be hard-pressed
to stay open, still less be able to justify increasing the rewards paid
to senior managers. Whilst there are some good examples where rewards
are justified, in many councils there seems to be precious little accountability
when it comes to linking performance and pay. Only this week, Southampton
City Council refused
to tell the public or the media
what pay rises they awarded to 22 senior officers who were under review.
With a captive market, and
with taxpayers unable to take their custom elsewhere, democracy and
transparency are the most crucial tools for holding officers to account.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance shouldn’t have to drag the details of senior
salaries out of councils using Freedom of Information requests each
year, it should be published as standard. It’s taxpayers’ money,
these officers are voters’ employees – we should be allowed to decide
whether we are getting a good deal or not.
You can join the TaxPayers’
Alliance for free here.