Full councils must vote on any officer salaries that exceed £100,000 a year, communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles has said.
The Localism Bill requires councils to adopt annual policy statements on remuneration, and for the secretary of state to issue guidance on when a separate vote would be needed to vary this. A similar rule applies to fire and rescue authorities.
Mr Pickles said £100,000 was “the place to start” but the move drew an angry response from the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives.
Secretary Mary Orton said: “Councils set employment terms and conditions, and this is just him throwing some spin and bluster around about something that is not within his jurisdiction because he cannot avoid picking a fight.
“Councillors are sick and tired of being harassed by Eric Pickles trying to divert attention from the crisis hitting public services.”
Councils are leading the way in being transparent about all their spending
Sir Steve Bullock (Lab), chairman of LGA workforce board
Although Mr Pickles implied that his measure would apply to all officers paid above £100,000, a statement from his department said any guidance issued “cannot impose any absolute requirements on local authorities or fire and rescue authorities, the functions regarding the setting of policies remain theirs to exercise”.
And the Bill’s impact assessment stated that it “does not seek to override existing employment contracts or contractual obligations and so would not impact on existing salaries”.
A DCLG spokesman subsequently confirmed that restrictions on pay could not apply retrospectively, but only when new contracts were signed.
Mr Pickles said: “Councils need to make sure they don’t sully their reputation by taking decisions behind closed doors to reward chief executives when they should be focusing resources on protecting frontline services.
“The changes we are introducing will mean that local government jobs will now have to be ‘democracy proofed’ before mega salaries are paid out.”
Sir Steve Bullock (Lab) chairman of the LGA Workforce Board, said: “It is right that pay for senior staff in the public sector is subject to scrutiny, but this kind of top-down interference is simply unnecessary. Councils are leading the way in being transparent about all their spending.
“We look forward to hearing from ministers whether other parts of the public sector are going to be as transparent as local government, and if MPs will be asked to approve the salaries of civil servants earning more than £100,000.”
Former LGA chair Jeremy Beecham (Lab) has tabled a House of Lords question asking how many senior civil servants, government advisers and quango staff were paid more than £100,000 and whether new appointments at this level would need approval by parliament.