MPs urge better checks on council bosses’ pay

11 Sep 14
Councils have been urged by MPs to improve the scrutiny of pay deals for senior officers to ensure there is never a return to ‘inflation-busting’ increases in top jobs.

By Richard Johnstone | 12 September 2014 

Councils have been urged by MPs to improve the scrutiny of pay deals for senior officers to ensure there is never a return to ‘inflation-busting’ increases in top jobs.

In a report examining the pay of senior town hall staff, the communities and local government select committee highlighted that pay packets had risen by 75% between 2000 and 2010.

Although the vast majority of councils have kept pay down for senior staff in recent tough economic years, today’s Local government chief officers’ remuneration report said there must be no return to these levels of increase.

Councils must also do more to make sure they are not paying ‘over the odds’ for staff by improving their market information, and the committee called on the Local Government Association to help increase information on regional pay and recruitment trends.

Committee chair Clive Betts said it was right that councils set pay based on their local needs and priorities.

However, local councillors must closely scrutinise decisions on senior pay.

‘It is unacceptable for senior figures to be handed significant increases simply for doing their jobs and we welcome the pay restraint the vast majority of councils are now demonstrating,’ he said

‘However, as economic conditions improve, councils need to strengthen local control of pay by developing more robust powers for democratic scrutiny.’

The committee also called for councils to increase the transparency of senior officer pay-off deals.

Betts highlighted public concern that such deals were used as an incentive for underperforming senior staff to leave authorities.

‘The public are rightly concerned at senior council staff being rewarded for failure,’ he said.

‘We call on government to require councils to publish details of any redundancy or ex-gratia payments made to departing senior staff within a month of the decision to award it.’

Many local authorities do not carry out rigorous assessments of senior staff performance, the report stated, and the LGA should also provide guidance to help local authorities better appraise top officers.

Responding to the report, Taxpayers' Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby said the committee was ‘spot on’ in saying that excessive pay for senior officials destroyed taxpayers' trust in local government.

‘When rank-and-file council staff have seen their pay frozen, it is downright immoral for town hall tycoons to enjoy salaries entirely detached from financial reality,’ he added.

‘Though recent pay restraint is welcome there are still more than 2,000 council staff on taxpayer-funded six-figure salaries, and that number must come down.’ 

Responding to the report, local government minister Kris Hopkins said that the coalition government’s focus on excessive pay had ‘grounded pay rises received by senior council staff that soared out of control during the noughties’.

He added: ‘We have already acted on pay transparency by opening up middle management and senior pay to greater public scrutiny and giving councillors the power to bring excessive salaries back under control.

‘Councils now have to publish details of their pay policies online and the new Transparency Code will further increase transparency on pay, while the full council must vote on bumper pay-offs and salaries exceeding £100,000.’


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