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Less money versus fair treatment

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As the council chief executive pay debate hots up, LGC hears from Mark Hammond who advocates a freeze and Mary Orton who wants equal pay rises with otherlocal government employees.

Delivering more leadership for less money


In his recent article (“Pay restraint is a mark of leadership”, LGC - 27/08/09) David Blackman was right to suggest that chief executives need to seriously consider any pay increases at this time.

I am sure other councils have done the same, but I was really quite proud that senior managers in West Sussex joined me in agreeing to a voluntary pay freeze in
March this year - especially because the only increase we get at all is performance pay.

The money went instead to a Keep West Sussex Working programme of various measures to help local businesses and residents cope with the recession.
And, it was added to by the decision of our councillors not to take any increase in their allowances this year.

In some ways this feels today as if this was the easy bit, because the challenge of managing the next few years and lowering costs but not services will demand that
we have the best managers we can afford.

In West Sussex, we designed a structure that has more managers earning more than £100,000 than before. But, before critics jump up and down, we also have fewer senior managers, a lower total pay bill, and a number of people who have come into local government from the private sector as well as other branches of the public services.

We need to deliver more for less, and better with fewer, and if we need some higher-paid individuals with the expertise to make that difference, we should be willing to explain and defend that.

So, we will need to decide how to deal with the pressures and politics in West Sussex when nationally the rest of the public sector seems to be shifting towards a freeze next year.

We must also confront the realities of the Local Government Pension Scheme and how we can make it acceptable in the long haul.

And we will also need to continue to act in a responsible and responsive manner on pay - particularly for chief executives and senior managers - but also to be sure we do not undermine the need to deliver services and savings effectively.

In the future, I believe we will have to prove that pay increases are not just based on performance, which sometimes can mean effort, but also on actual results.

Mark Hammond, Chief executive of West Sussex CC

 

Fair treatment for chief executives

Let’s be clear. In the pay negotiations, money is not the main issue. What chief executives want is equal treatment - compared with the rest of our staff.

To get the strong and skilful leadership local government requires employers must be seen to be supporting us wholeheartedly. Not to do so implies that we are less
valued and less deserving than chiefs in other sectors, and it plays into the hands of those in the media with a vested interest in undermining local government.

We dedicate our lives to leadership in local government because we are passionate about public service. We are acutely aware of the financial pressures facing our services. But skilled management costs money. Our sector should not be ashamed to give fair reward for the demanding role that its chief executives do.

It’s not new for popular culture to despise local government. There are reasons for this - for most people the only part of your personal tax bill that is handed to you on
a piece of paper is council tax. And many of our activities are concerned with regulation or rationing - saying “no” is never going to be popular. What is new, however,
is the personal and bitter public attacks on our profession - aimed at chief executives as individuals and as a collective.

Our pay, our pensions, even our lunch partners, are all fair game for public debate, and worried, vote-seeking politicians rush to jump on the bandwagon by suggesting the pensions we have paid into all our working lives should be arbitrarily capped.

But this culture of chief executive bashing will only end up damaging the public’s trust in our services and councils. It will do nothing to attract and retain the skilled people we need to lead the process of re-shaping the public sector as we emerge from recession.

This debate is about local government having confidence in chief executives. First and foremost we want to see our employers in local government standing
wholeheartedly alongside us, and demonstrating to the public that we are valued no more or less than the rest of our staff.

Our request is simply that if councils feel they can afford to give a pay increase to the local government sector, then that decision should apply to all of us.

Mary Orton, honorary secretary of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, and chief executive of Waverley DC

 

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