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Chiefs defend salaries of council officers paid more than prime minister

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Council chiefs have defended the salaries they earn and the wages they pay senior officers at a parliamentary hearing on senior pay.

Members of the communities and local government select committee heard that despite seemingly attractive salaries being offered to tempt people to work at councils, some local authorities are struggling to fill key roles.

The committee heard a claim from the Taxpayers’ Alliance that more than 2,500 officers working in local government earn more than £100,000 a year, and that some of those earn more than the Prime Minister whose salary is about £142,500.

Asked whether that was justified, Maggie Rae, corporate director at Wiltshire Council who is paid between £138,000 and £143,200, said she did not think the jobs were comparable.

“We’re paying middle-range salaries while at the same time we have ambition to be the most excellent council, and at the moment we are struggling to get staff into jobs even at those salaries you’re talking about because people can earn much more money in the private sector and I think we’ve got to work very hard to make sure local government doesn’t fall behind,” she said.

Ms Rae added: “We’ve got a number of senior officer jobs in a variety of services, such as children’s social care and adult social care, and it is very difficult to attract staff to those jobs.

“You look at the advertisements and the salaries are going up and up and up on those jobs, and many of the qualified staff who have the expertise are in the interim market because they can earn a great deal more working that way than if they joined local government [full time].”

Graham Farrant, who earns £185,000 a year as joint chief executive at Thurrock Council and Barking & Dagenham LBC, said: “My personal feeling is that it is at about the right level but that level must vary depending on local circumstances and complexity.”

He said salaries needed to be seen in the context of having no bonuses and low mileage allowances.

“It’s effectively the base salary that is the key issue,” said Mr Farrant.

Mr Farrant also warned about knocking senior salaries down, which he said would encourage staff to leave. He added that those implementing spending cuts especially needed rewarding.

“I don’t think somebody taking a salary cut themselves is necessarily the right leadership as you need to keep them,” he said. “If you were to force that, then you risk losing good people.”

Asked whether the public should have a role in setting senior council staff salaries, Mr Farrant warned against it as he believed it was difficult to explain to people exactly what the job entailed.

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