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Local government: Not as pale and male as you might think

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

After becoming widespread in use by the 1960s and 1970s, the system “broke down” in the 1980s, according to Centre for Research in Social Policy director Donald Hirsch. In a paper published last year he added: “Since then London weightings and supplements have been largely based on strategic efforts to secure staff in London, especially in shortage areas.”

Looking at LGC research, published today, it would appear local government in London remains keen to secure the very best it can by paying its chief executives far more than their counterparts elsewhere.

Due to the existence of London weighting – designed to help offset the higher costs associated with living and working in the capital – that finding alone is perhaps not so surprising, although some might raise their eyebrows at the fact London borough chiefs earn, on average, over £23,000 a year more than the average for the role at top-tier councils elsewhere in the country.

Still, these figures pale into insignificance when compared to the fact FTSE 100 chief executives earned £4.5m on average in 2016 – and that was a drop on the average £5.4m earned in 2015. These are figures the TaxPayers’ Alliance often forget to mention (or choose to ignore) when they publish their annual town hall rich lists.

Earlier this year, the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers was locked in a battle with local government’s national employers over a pay offer. After rejecting a 1% rise for 2018-19 alone, the union successfully secured a 2% rise (still below the current inflation rate, it must be noted) this year and next.

Chief executive pay is always an emotive topic for residents and certain sections of the media. But the sector, and society, needs the very best and brightest individuals to lead their areas in what are increasingly tricky and stressful times.

Areas also need individuals who reflect society. LGC’s research also showed 41% of top-tier chiefs are female. While this is some way short of being representative of society, it is significantly better than most professional sectors. The existance of a discrepancy between male and female chief executive earnings will be noted with interest.

Local government is often thought to be male, pale and stale. LGC’s research on gender shows that, among top-tier chief executives at least, the divide is not quite as stark as many might think.

But issues still remain regarding ethnic diversity.

Writing for LGC, Robin Hambleton, emeritus professor of city leadership, University of the West of England, praised England football manager Gareth Southgate for the way he had contributed “to the national debate about what it means to be English in 2018” during the World Cup.

“It would be misguided to believe that a successful multi-ethnic national football team can put an end to racism in any given society, but sport can play a role in shaping national feelings of identity,” said Professor Hambleton.

Local government has a role to play in that too.

As Graeme McDonald, managing director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said “there is still much to do” beyond looking at gender to make sure councils truly reflect the communities they serve.

By David Paine, acting news editor

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