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COMMENT - TABLOID TALES OF FAT CAT BURGHERS MISS THE POINT

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Chief executives' pay has rocketed so much in recent years that the best paid chief executive, Mike Pitt at Kent CC...
Chief executives' pay has rocketed so much in recent years that the best paid chief executive, Mike Pitt at Kent CC, now earns more than prime minister Tony Blair. But Mr Pitt's £180,000 salary is set to be topped by the next chief executive at Bradford MBC with the council advertising the post for up to £200,000.

Newspapers have been quick to criticise the salaries being handed out, pointing out that social workers and teachers get a fraction of what the person at the top gets.

But criticising chief executive pay is misguided. As the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers survey reveals in today's LGC, council chief executives' pay is still lagging well behind their private sector counterparts. For example, the average salary for a London borough chief executive is £116,400 whereas the head of Blockbuster Entertainment, which has a similar turnover and number of staff, gets £416,000.

Solace rightly points out that to attract the best people you have to pay the going rate - something even the majority of the unions accept. Mike Pitt, in tandem with Kent leader Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Con), arguably forms the most successful and influential partnership in local government.

Of course, the same argument has been used to defend the likes of Jean Pierre Garnier, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, who recently faced the embarrassment of having his £22m pay-off package voted down by shareholders.

But the sums here are on a completely different scale and it is a nonsense to try to link the two under one 'fat cat' headline.

The truth is, even at their existing pay levels chief executives are attracted by private sector pay. The joint Solace/LGC survey last year (LGC, 30 August 2002) revealed 60% of chief executives are eyeing jobs in the private sector.

If councils want to attract people who are going to make a difference they need to pay for it.

And that does not just go for the people at the top. The recent survey by recruit ment firm Bernard Hodes (LGC, 23 May) pointed out that local government needs to do more to attract the best graduates, as three quarters of them say the public sector offers 'dead-end career prospects'.

Surely the aim for local government is to ensure every chief executive and chief officer has the talent to command a high salary, not to try to get excellent services on the cheap.

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