In April this year, the Taxpayers’ Alliance had its annual swipe at the ‘fat cats’ in local government but yesterday, research by LGC revealed levels of pay for chief executives have actually continued to fall.
As a former ‘fat cat’ myself, I must declare an interest.
I accept the alliance, unaccountable and strident though it is, does do some vital and detailed work in collating data about comparative pay levels, which should be put to effective use, even if it can be uncomfortable to read. Most recently, they have acknowledged there are examples of excellent services being provided at good value for money.
However, it is how this is presented – exacerbated by some in the media, it has to be said – which is unhelpful. The inference is local government spending is totally out of control and urgent steps are necessary to bring it into line. The evidence from the LGC is an important corrective. Yes, there are examples of generous exit payments but these are few; yes, on the whole, there are good pension arrangements but these are long-standing contracts, into which beneficiaries have contributed for many years; and, yes, some senior salaries are higher than the local average but these senior people have had to undergo rigorous competition to be appointed and had to work hard to prove their continuing worth.
It is a major understatement to infer such achievements are isolated and that there has been little or no improvement in local authority performance. Indeed, most authorities can provide validated evidence that the opposite is the case, with examples of improvement, excellence and increased efficiency, recognised by community satisfaction surveys. In fact, given the financial pressures, just to maintain existing services is a major achievement in itself, but many councils have delivered benefits for their communities far beyond that. Committed and professional senior managers have been fundamental to these achievements.
The jobs of senior managers are getting harder. With ever-diminishing resources, already complex organisations are even more difficult to manage. This is added to the increasing need to ‘influence-manage’ the important relationships with more and more partners, inside and outside the local government family, if together they are to meet local needs. Now, involved from an independent perspective, I am even more convinced these people continue to earn their salaries every day.
Presentation is a powerful tool, which the TPA and its media colleagues use well and there is much in what they say. Perhaps through the Local Government Association, there needs to be a more robust response and, dare I say it, instead of railing against the TPA, we should work with it. After all, we all want the same thing: more effective and more efficient local government, at a price everyone can afford.
Steve Atkinson, director of Edenwich and former chief executive, Hinckley & Bosworth BC