Mark Wallace of the TaxPayers' Alliance explains how the latest TPA research unveils a marked increase in the number of Town Hall employees earning over £100,000 – and names and shames the councils still resisting publishing such information.
It’s that time of year again – the Town Hall Rich List, in which the TaxPayers’ Alliance publishes the full remuneration details, job titles and names for everyone in local government whose pay and perks totalled £100,000 or more in 2007-08, is out today. You can read the full report, and find out the details for the senior staff of your own council, here.
There will certainly be numerous local controversies about the pay and perks of senior officials at various councils around the country – not least, of course, because 2007-08 was the year when so many local authorities were making their disastrous investments in doomed Icelandic banks – but the national picture is pretty shocking, too.
In 07/08, pay in the wider economy was still on the rise, so some increase might be expected. However, Town Hall pay seems to have grown unusually fast. The total number of people on the list grew from 818 to 1,022, so either a lot of executive jobs were created, or the second tier of town hall management saw their remuneration grow at an alarming rate.
The purpose of publishing the list, of course, is to give people the information they need to properly hold their council to account. So, are these Town Hall executives worth the money? The question is best answered locally, council by council by taxpayers themselves who know the details of their tax bill and can see whether the services they get are worth the money. In fact, please let us know in the comments below how your council’s performance compares to the pay packets being handed out in its offices.
In the broad sweep of local authorities, leaving aside those exceptional cases where low taxes and good governance are the norm, there are serious reasons to question whether these remuneration packages are well-deserved. Council tax has more than doubled in a decade, charges and fines have soared in the same period, the majority of councils have now cut bin collections back to fortnightly instead of monthly and that is simply the tip of the iceberg.
When the Local Government Association and council press offices predictably repeat the mantra that they “pay good wages because they have the best staff”, ask them this: if there are now a record 1,022 council officers worth paying top whack, why do councils also spend more than ever on consultants to tell them how to do their job?
The new figures included in the report are only part of today’s news, though. Encouragingly, this may be the last year that the TPA needs to drag the information out of councils using Freedom of Information (FoI) requests – our campaign for public sector transparency seems to be succeeding.
At present, the official information provided on how well council officers are rewarded is utterly opaque. The number of officers whose remuneration falls within bands of £10,000 is published, but taxpayers are given no idea who those officers are or what their responsibilities are. This is farcical, and next to useless – if the bin collections are useless at your council, you deserve to know whether the officer in charge is getting a bonus. Similarly, if the care for vulnerable children is excellent, then you should be able to see if the person responsible is being rewarded as they deserve. For true accountability, you need true transparency.
So for the last three years, we have used the Freedom of Information Act to give taxpayers the information they deserve to have as standard. Whilst some councils are fully compliant with the law, others are deliberately obstructive, in defiance of both the FoI law and most recently a preliminary ruling from the Information Commissioner in favour of disclosure. More than 40 councils initially failed to provide any or adequate information, and we had to appeal to them to abide by the law. We appealed every single one of these cases, but despite repeated requests and months to respond, by the time of publishing the Rich List, 23 local authorities had still failed to provide the information we were asking for.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance believes that taxpayers have the right to see how much of their money is being given to their council’s employees to provide their public services. In the interests of transparency, therefore, here are the names of the rump of secretive councils who are denying the public’s right to know: Bath & North East Somerset, Bromley, Broxbourne, Camden, Chelmsford, Chester, Chester-le-Street, Enfield, Essex, Hampshire, Kettering, Lewisham, Liverpool, Richmondshire, Runnymede, Shepway, Southwark, Sunderland, Thanet, Torridge, Vale of Glamorgan, Wansbeck and Worcestershire.
These councils will no longer be able to get away with their secretive behaviour. All three main political parties are now committed to publishing the remuneration details of senior local government staff as standard. This is the right thing to do – publication of such important information should be the norm, not the exception. To have a truly effective democracy, we need an informed electorate and an accountable public sector. It has taken three years of Freedom of Information requests, political campaigning and Town Hall Rich Lists, but it seems that at last taxpayers are gaining the right to find out how their money is spent. Knowledge is power, and it is only right that the people who pay the bills and suffer if councils fail to do their job properly are given that power immediately.