Another year, another TaxPayers’ Alliance Town Hall Rich List is published – and is as wildly misleading as ever.
It may be good fodder for a tabloid headline but the Rich List does little to inform the debate on public sector salaries. By listing top-level salaries alongside pay-offs and pension packages, the TPA gives a deeply skewed impression of just what a council chief executive earns – before you even start to consider what the right level is for salaries.
It is nearly 20 years since the first English authorities started to hire chiefs on £200,000 plus. What is remarkable is how little top salaries have risen since then and how slim the gap between council chiefs’ pay and their directors’ has become.
Do we really value our senior public servants less than we did 20 years ago? Possibly. What the TPA shows is the cost of council senior staff – but not the value.
Local government chief executives do a complex job, running huge numbers of diverse services. They are responsible for adult social care and children’s services – services on which lives depend.
They are tasked with solving the nation’s housing crisis and picking up the pieces for the homeless. They must boost the economic capability of their local area, creating jobs and building the national economy at a local level.
In the past few years, they have seen their jobs change dramatically – now they must negotiate devolution deals, reinvent public services and integrate health and social care, all amid a rapidly shrinking resource envelope.
And they have to do this in a political environment. Their positions can become untenable on the whim of a public vote, a change of political personnel or just because they no longer fit.
Are council chiefs worth the money? Let’s be brutally honest: not all of them. As the role becomes increasingly complex, it will be harder and harder to find the right person for the job – even without the TPA sniping from the sidelines.
So the Town Hall Rich List is done for another year – let’s spend the next 51 weeks celebrating the success of senior staff, of what they have achieved and the value they give to taxpayers across the country.