Pay cut must be put to test

ERIC Pickles, the one-time leader of Bradford Council, will find plenty of support for his campaign to cut pay at the top of local government.

As with banking bonuses, however, it is proving much tougher for Ministers to back words with action.

The pugnacious Local Government Secretary is demanding that all council chief executives earning more than 150,000 "lead from the front" and take a five per cent pay cut. However, only one of this region's bosses, Wakefield chief executive Joanne Roney, has agreed to do so.

Clearly, taxpayers want the best people to run their local administration, and the postholders have to be paid accordingly. That is accepted. People must be careful not to demonise all public sector management; they are an easy target at a time when frontline services are in jeopardy, and many bosses work tirelessly to improve the standard of living for their communities.

However, a symbolic gesture – as much to show support for their own diminishing workforce and also for the public who pay their salaries – does not seem to be too much to ask in the present economic climate, especially when their salaries invariably eclipse Prime Minister David Cameron's pay.

In the private sector, many of those fortunate enough to still be in work have had their pay frozen for two or three years. Others have accepted pay cuts or reduced hours in order to minimise job losses.

But bosses in the public sector are guaranteed an income – their customers have to pay their taxes during the boom and the bust, and this brings a lot of social responsibility.

In fact, the recession has already roved profitable for a few of those in public service – eye-watering, six-figure pay-offs for some senior officers, who, within days, were back in work at another authority.

Those revelations, although rare, have helped create a bitter divide within councils, with unions warning of considerable unrest as redundancies are imposed.

Mary Orton, the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives secretary, missed the point when she said that any pay reductions would be "absolutely negligible" compared to the swingeing cuts forced on councils.

Those at the top are generously remunerated because they are supposed to lead by example.