Press release

Government has grounded excessive town hall pay but councils must do more to prove value of senior staff

Eric Pickles calls on councils to be more open about top earners.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Town hall

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today (13 December 2014) called on councils to be more open about top earners and prove to taxpayers they are getting value for money from 6-figure salaries and lucrative bonuses.

This government’s focus on excessive pay has brought about a pay restraint among the vast majority of councils reducing the number of town hall staff on inflated salaries and ending an era of boomerang bosses. However, latest figures for the UK suggest more than 2,000 town hall staff were still taking home more than £100,000 a year.

The coalition government has already changed the law to provide greater transparency in town halls and give local taxpayers the information they need to hold councils to account about how they spend their money.

Councils must publish details about pay matters every year, while senior appointments and severance payments of £100,000 have to go to a full council vote.

Mr Pickles has now instructed his officials to look at how guidance can be amended to achieve even greater transparency on top earners.

Responding to a select committee report on senior pay in local government, the Secretary of State was clear councils must now come clean about how they appraise the performance of top earners. They will also have to explain the reason behind lucrative bonuses and how they deal with poor performance.

The Secretary of State said:

When we came to power hundreds of directors, executives and strategists were lining their pockets with hardworking families’ cash. But this government’s focus on excessive pay grounded pay rises received by senior council staff which had soared out of control during the noughties.

But there is still more to do and councils should be focusing resources on protecting frontline services and keeping Council Tax down rather than throwing away taxpayers’ money.

Local taxpayers would be shocked to learn their council still has many highly paid staff on its payroll while pleading poverty and seeking to increase Council Tax. The gravy train is over and town halls must prove to hardworking families they are getting value for money from top earners.

Further information

The government’s drive to tackle senior pay included:

  • introducing measures in the Localism Act 2011 on pay accountability, which require authorities to set out their approach to pay matters, in particular senior pay, in annual pay policy statements; these statements must be approved by full council and published on an authority’s website

  • issuing guidance on a range of pay matters, to which authorities must have regard when they exercise their duties on pay accountability; we issued guidance in 2012 and supplementary guidance in 2013

  • the guidance includes recommendations that authorities should give full council the opportunity to vote on senior appointments and severance payments of £100,000 or more

  • the government has published the Local government transparency code 2014 which came into effect on 31 October 2014; the Code sets out the minimum data that must be published by councils about their financial and procurement decisions and about who takes those decisions; the first quarterly set of data must be published by 31 December 2014 and first set of annual data by 2 February 2015; the Code requires authorities to publish data in a timely fashion, regularly and in open and machine-readable formats including: expenditure of £500 or more, senior salaries, staff organisational charts, pay multiples and trade union facility time

  • the government intends to remove the costly and bureaucratic requirement for a designated independent person to investigate allegations of misconduct by senior officers

  • the government to encourage districts councils to take up the challenge of sharing chief executives and other services set-up the Transformation Challenge Award in 2013

  • the Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations 2011 require authorities to publish information on severance payments for chief officers within their annual statement of accounts; such payments cannot be protected from disclosure by confidentiality agreements

  • the government sent a letter to Rother district council (12 December 2014) about transparency on severance payments

  • the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill include provisions to enable the recovery of redundancy payments when an individual takes new employment in the same part of the public sector within 12 months of being made redundant

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Published 13 December 2014
Last updated 15 December 2014 + show all updates
  1. Added link to letter from Kris Hopkins to Rother district council about transparency on severance payments.
  2. First published.