A wide variation exists in the amount councils pay their most senior staff, LGC research reveals.
Big disparities also emerge in the gender breakdown of the holders of certain posts.
The dominance of men and the range of pay is biggest among section 151 officers. LGC’s research found a difference of more than £95,000 between the highest and lowest paid chief finance officer.
However, apart from directors of adult and children’s services, chief finance officers are, in general, among the highest paid in councils. This is perhaps not surprising given the scale of budgets and the complexity of cuts they have to oversee.
In an interview with LGC Rob Whiteman, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy, said the sector needed “to put some capacity in finance director roles”. He added: “We also need to look at issues like pay.
“I see young, bright accountants leaving the sector to work in health, government or work in the firms because actually they earn less than when I was making my way up through my career.
“On pay it’s never easy to say officials should earn more but if the sector is not careful – this is true for chief executives and directors of finance -– we will lose our best talent to other sectors and then not be in the position to have the capability to deal with our problems.”
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LGC asked all top-tier councils for details on pay and gender for all of the statutory roles local authorities must assign to someone. LGC received full responses from about half of these councils.
The research focused on authorities’ statutory roles rather than the full make-up of senior management teams.
The research showed that some posts, especially that of the scrutiny officer, tended to be held by a more junior member of staff on lower pay than the most senior officers.
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This is reflected in the fact the average annual salary for scrutiny officers is about £30,000 less than that of the next ‘lowest’ paid statutory role, the monitoring officer (see interactive graphic). LGC’s research also found a £86,887 difference between the highest and lowest paid scrutiny officers.
Looking at pay in general, there are only marginal differences in what men and women earn in each of the roles.
Unsurprisingly, those who are heads of paid service, roles which are almost always held by a council’s chief executive, earn the most. But those that do hold such roles often have additional statutory duties, most commonly the returning officer and/or electoral registration officer.
Speaking about the make-up of chief executives in general, Mr Whiteman expressed concern about a perceived preference to appoint “deal-makers” rather than those with a financial and/or legal background.
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“The current trend is that the most common route to becoming chief executive is a regeneration director as a deal-maker,” he said.
“That’s good if councils want to do deals. But actually chief executives do also need to be town clerks in the old sense of the term that set strong governance and make sure that options are considered and that officers are not bullied into feeling that they cannot give the advice that members want to hear.”