Town hall pay out of control

BOTH the Government, and Opposition, have repeatedly pleaded for the whole country to share the economic pain of the recession. Many people have done so, and with minimal complaint.

The one exception is local government where the pay increases accrued by senior executives continue to be disproportionate to the stringent salary caps imposed on lower-paid workers like teachers.

It is little wonder that the public sector is so bloated when, at a supposed time of prudence, that the number of staff earning more than 100,000 a year has increased by 14 per cent – and top earners enjoyed an average salary increase of five per cent in the past year, a rise that comfortably outstrips inflation.

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Of course, town hall bosses are responsible for large budgets, key services and many staff. That is accepted. But these responsibilities are not so onerous that 31 executives now earn more than Gordon Brown.

According to figures extrapolated by the TaxPayers' Alliance, 13 officers at Leeds City Council earn in excess of 100,000. This figure is 10 at East Riding Council – an authority that has been repeatedly in the spotlight for the excessive salaries, and pension packages, offered to senior staff, and its lack of public accountability.

Labour largesse cannot be blamed. These authorities are Conservative-led. Yet why can some comparable authorities operate, perfectly efficiently, with fewer high-earners? It's not as if the services offered in Leeds and the East Riding are truly outstanding. They're not, with Leeds, for example, still counting the cost of last year's bin strike.

As the Tories and Labour argue about the merits of their respective proposals to curb executive pay, the answer is actually very straight-forward. A council's ruling cabinet must endorse – in public – any remuneration package that is likely to be worth more than 100,000 a year before the post is advertised.

This measure would offer a safeguard that is not presently provided – and it would compel councillors, the ultimate decision-makers after all, to appreciate that they have been entrusted with the public's money, and that it needs to be spent wisely. Such accountability and transparency is overdue.