Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Town Hall Pay

Eric Pickles has come up with another great wheeze - subjecting the pay deals of all local government employeess who get over £100,000 a year to a vote of all councillors.

Unlike the LGA, I'm all for it.

I think most councillors accept that we need to pay quite a lot to get people of top quality to run council services. But that does not mean that we need to pay over the odds. I'm certain that, if implemented nationwide, we could still get top notch people with the right experience to do a first rate job.

When Cornwall Council became a unitary authority, the old County Council and six districts merged into one. We went from around 33 top officers to just six. That move alone saved millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

But what happened next was that all six got whacking pay rises compared with the previous holders of the jobs. In some cases, it was quite right that there should be some increase on the previous rate due to the increase workload and responsibilities. In the case of the Chief Exec, for example, the post was no longer simply responsible for county council services but for a much bigger organisation dealing with parking, leisure, housing and all the other old district functions.

But was the scale of the pay rise justified? The former Chief Exec of the County Council was on about £150,000. Yet the new Chief Exec earns £200,000 (it should be noted that he has taken a voluntary 5% pay cut but is still entitled to claim the full whack if he wants). Was this huge rise justified or should a balance (perhaps at £175,000) have been struck?

And what about those jobs which had little changed? The former director of adult care was responsible for adult social services across Cornwall. The new director of adult care has virtually the same role. Yet there was a massive pay hike with the formation of the new authority.

It may well be that in some areas where there is a shortage of candidates, the council will want to offer a higher than normal pay package to secure the best rather than take second rate.

But the norm should be packages a step below the current levels and I think that having a more open process - including the approval by full council of the pay level - is a step in the right direction. This will become particularly necessary in years to come when the next tier of officers (heads of service) start to edge up to, and above, the £100k mark.

I acknowledge, of course, that four of the six directors in Cornwall Council were appointed by the Implementation Executive which was largely run by Lib Dems. I think they got it wrong.

None of the foregoing should be seen as a comment on the qualities of the individual postholders here in Cornwall. Each is perfectly entitled to seek the maximum return for their undoubted skills. It is the system that needs changing, not the current office holders.


Liberal Neil said...

I think pickles is right that pay for senior managers in local government is out of control, but wrong to impose a solution on how councils go about dealing with it.

Our local district council has saved about £650K a year by merging its senior management team with the neighbouring district council. The Chief exec got a 5% rise in his salary as a result, which is reasonable on those terms.

However pay for senior posts has risen across the board and far more quickly than for 'ordinary' workers.

For senior manager the argument always seems to be that a council needs to pay top rate to get the best. This same argument never seems to apply to cleaners or receptionists!

Councillors across the country need to work together to resist this sort of salary inflation.

One policy I would suggest is making all pay rises from now on in cash rather than percentage.

Another is for councils to routinely advertise management posts at a percentage less than the previous incumbent. After all there are going to be a lot of experienced council managers looking for work.

Phil said...

It's very easy to criticise Lavery's pay but £200,000 whilst not a drop in the ocean pales in comparison with the £40.5 million unitary savings that he says will be delivered this year.

His immediate predecessors had more chance of flying to the moon than making these or any other savings. So just maybe KL has been worth it. Without him and previous council leader, David Whalley, you would have had even more cuts to whinge about in this blog.

Sandy Angove said...

The Implementation Executive took their advice from Gatenby Sanderson (I see they are signed up to recruit the LEP Board too). Quite what is the right level of pay who can say? At the end of the day, unless you can get all Local Authorities to agree on 'payscales' for senior execs you have to offer enough money to get the right quality of applicants. If I recall aright, a second round of recruitment was needed for some senior posts.