Council bosses cash in as services are cut

Council bosses cash in - Sunday Times July 2014I worked on this survey of council executive salaries, published in the Sunday Times last week. Our analysis found that more than half (61%) of executives received remuneration totalling more than £142,500, the prime minister’s salary.

All the information is available in the councils’ annual statement of accounts, which are released in their initial form in June/July each year and opened to the public for inspection.

Find the full text on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

Council bosses cash in while services are cut

By Robin Henry, Nadia Husen and Cal Flyn, published 20 July 2014

MORE than half of councils in England have defied the government’s demand for pay restraint by raising the salaries of their top executives while cutting local services.

Analysis by The Sunday Times of last year’s accounts filed by 226 of the 326 local authorities across England reveals that 137 (61%) paid their biggest-earning executive more than David Cameron, whose salary is £142,500.

The highest paid was believed to be Peter Lewis, the director of children’s services at Somerset county council, who received £318,500. The highest-paid official received £160,000 last year and less than £129,000 three years ago.

Lewis, who was hired through an employment agency, was one of three temporary executives brought in by the council last year to oversee children’s services on combined salaries totalling £741,900.

The appointments followed a critical report by Ofsted, the education watchdog.

Sheila Wheeler, Somerset’s former chief executive, received a package worth £198,100 on an annualised salary of £160,000. She left in February after being criticised for being absent during the West Country floods last year. Somerset county council is cutting jobs, youth and community services and sheltered housing in an attempt save £18m.

According to the analysis, which involved ranking each council in order of its highestpaid official and comparing the salaries with those paid for the post three years ago, 13 of the 20 highest-paying councils have increased the salaries of their best-paid executives since 2011.

Wandsworth council in London raised its top salary by more than £41,000 to £216,000, Birmingham by nearly £13,000 to £212,000 and Haringey, also in London, by almost £48,000 to just under £190,000.

Wandsworth now has 11 officers who are paid more than the prime minister. The council’s chief executive, Paul Martin, received a £15,000 bonus and pay rise last year, taking his total pay package to £282,210.

Ministers have been critical of highly paid council executives, particularly those who have moved from authority to authority to boost their salaries. The practice is, however, continuing. John van de Laarschot was appointed chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent city council in January 2010 with an annual salary of £179,000 — £14,000 more than his predecessor. Van de Laarschot moved from Torridge district council in Devon, where his salary was £150,000.

Last year Stoke-on-Trent council approved a £5,000 salary increase for Van de Laarschot on the day it agreed £21m cuts to services. His salary is now £195,516 — part of a total package worth £232,000.

Van de Laarschot, who dressed as Superman to abseil down a building for charity, was branded “a snob” during an appearance on the Channel 4 reality show Wife Swap in 2004 when he objected to his “impostor” wife hosting an event for underprivileged children.

Dave Conway, the leader of Stoke’s opposition City Independent group, said the high executive pay had angered residents.

“We’ve lost swimming pools, libraries and old people’s homes. I don’t know how the council can justify paying one man all this money at the same time,” he said.

A study of the accounts also reveals that Buckinghamshire and Surrey county councils have given their chief executives pay rises, taking their salaries to £209,070 and £211,804 respectively.

Some councils have increased the highest-paid executive’s pay in each of the past three years while others increased them last year after cuts in 2012-13.

Among the highest-paying 20 councils, only five reduced the top salary after demands for austerity in 2010 by the newly elected coalition government.

Dia Chakravarty, the political director at the campaign group TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Sky-high public sector salaries are unacceptable and highlight the need for a war on waste. Increasing the cost of a single role by £150,000 in a single year is astonishing, particularly when savings have to be made elsewhere.

“Even if part of the money is going to agencies to find the right person, it still shows an unacceptable lack of prudence.”

Stoke-on-Trent council defended Van de Laarschot’s pay, saying that the city required someone with the “ability to effectively manage the delivery of complex services, and to drive jobs and growth for residents”.

Somerset declined to confirm that Lewis was the recipient of the £318,500 salary but John Osman, the council’s leader, said the salaries totalling £741,900 for three temporary executives were justified because “the 2012 and 2013 Ofsted inspections highlighted that our child protection services were not good enough”.

He added: “We took the decision to invest in highquality temporary directors with a proven track record to ensure that improvement was immediate.”

Wandsworth council said the authority had saved more than £1m in executive pay since 2010.


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