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COMMENT - PAY BOMBSHELL HIDDEN IN INNOCUOUS PACKAGE

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The messages in the pay and workforce strategy put together by the ODPM and the Employers' Organisation are pretty ...
The messages in the pay and workforce strategy put together by the ODPM and the Employers' Organisation are pretty harmless - until it comes to pay.

The strategy challenges councils to raise skill levels across the workforce, including councillors.

Encouragingly, it also predicts a substantial, if unquantified, growth in staff.

Efforts to boost leadership capacity, such as attracting high flyers from outside local government and reinforcing skills at management level, are a key plank.

It is rightly critical of the level of investment in training, averaging fewer than two days a year per member of staff.

There is little to quarrel with - apart from the fact most of it is common sense and the vast majority of councils do not need the ODPM to point it out - until the document turns to pay. What comment it does make is largely a defence of the status quo - for most of the workforce, it concludes that existing pay rates are sufficient to keep posts filled.

The exception is the paper's enthusiasm for performance-related pay at senior levels.

It stops short of prescribing universal PRP, but its wording is surely significant. It reiterates that the government's evidence to the Pay Commission, which is still to report, called for senior officers' pay to be linked to performance.

It then criticises the fact this only happens for just under one third of chief executives.

This situation 'does not sit well with the need to improve the delivery of key public services,' it asserts.

'The government believes a higher proportion of chief executives should have pay based on achieving individual performance targets.'

It calls on councils to avoid salary bidding wars, but urges a 'clear and public link' between chief executives' pay and performance.

Three lines of thought have now emerged in the senior officer pay debate: that higher salaries are provoking an internal bidding war which is not widening the pool of talent; that higher salaries are stopping some talent from leaving for the p rivate sector, but need to go higher still to attract traffic the other way; and that higher salaries are an affront to other council staff and the public, and need to be both justified and capped.

Performance-related pay does have its place, but local government lobbyists must ensure it does not metamorphose into yet another pointless piece of central prescription.

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