Chief executives have criticised the claims of the TaxPayers’ Alliance at a parliamentary hearing on senior pay.
Graeme McDonald, director of Solace, said the lobbying group was wrong to claim that his organisation advised councils on pay.
The alliance’s written evidence to the communities and local government select committee said: “The use of consultancies to advise on [chief executives’] pay does little to encourage public confidence in the system or deliver value for money, often acting as little more than an expensive rubber stamp. Some consultancies, like Solace, seem to be little more than employee groups designed to push up pay.”
Mr McDonald said: “Solace or Solace Enterprises does not advise local authorities on senior pay. When asked for specifics they relied on examples from more than seven years ago. Transparency has improved significantly and the market works far better than other less open professions.”
TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby was challenged by committee chair Clive Betts (Lab) at the hearing over what evidence he had that chiefs’ pay was rising excessively as “we find costs are not escalating”.
Mr Isaby conceded that pay since 2010-11 had been “slightly down”, but said there was “often a public outcry at numbers of people earning very high salaries”.
But Mr Betts said the mean level of chiefs’ pay had not shifted while pay had risen a great deal more in the private sector.
Another witness Duncan Brown, principal of performance, reward and talent at consultant AON Hewitt, said that when the alliance first published its Town Hall Rich List it “surprised a lot of people as the information was not publicly available, but it’s now very different. Most councils have independent remuneration panels and openness is required”.
He noted that research in LGC’s Salary Tracker had found that new chief executives were being recruited at rates below those of their predecessors.
Mr Isaby said local government should end a ‘job for life’ culture and added that there was “an argument for more fixed term contracts, which if not renewed then the person concerned should walk away rather than expect a massive pay off. Anecdotally people find that hugely frustrating”.
He attacked by name former Wakefield MDC chief John Foster for taking a payoff and then becoming chief executive at Islington LBC, and Katherine Kerswell, who was paid off after a short stay at Kent CC.