Friday 6 February 2009
Council salaries - who calls the shots?
At the Hendon Residents Forum on Thursday, I asked the following question:
Will the Council be following the example set by President Obama and freezing the salaries for senior officers during the recession?
The council replied:
The annual salary rise for Council employees is covered by national negotiating machinery. The Council cannot therefore unilaterally impose pay freezes and implements the pay rises agreed by the employer’s side and staff side.
For those who believe in localism, the concept of national pay bargaining is a relic from 1970s. Council pay should be set by councils themselves. That is what democratic accountability is all about.
But according to an article in this week’s Barnet Times, the council can set its own pay levels. Apparently, the council has had difficulty recruiting a Director of Children’s Services and has agreed to increase the salary available.
So if the council can put pay up, to reflect recruitment difficulties, why can it not impose a freeze where no such difficulties occur?
Defending the decision, council leader Mike Freer said “We either lose good people to councils paying the market rate or we increase the amount we’re willing to pay.” On one level it is easy to sympathise with Freer’s dilemma. But on another level, doesn’t this just suggest that councils across the whole country are paying senior staff far too much, causing unnecessary wage inflation?
The Conservative Party Chairman, Eric Pickles, recently criticised six figure salaries for chief officers. The Conservatives are now the largest party in local government and therefore have the ability to stop this gravy train in its tracks.
Nobody disputes the need for Barnet to hire the best person possible for the position, but anyone who thinks that £100,000 (plus gold plated pension) is not a good salary does not live in the real world. Most residents will find the idea of the new Chief Executive being paid over £200,000 obscene at the best of times, but even more so in a recession.
There are many thousands of experienced executives now without work who are more than capable of taking on senior posts within local authorities. Mike Freer is very keen to promote his “Future Shape” project to outsource/privatise services to reduce costs, so why not let Barnet be an example to the rest of the country and start outsourcing chief officers posts as well?