Councils should publish and be praised or damned

Today we learn that Councils are refusing to publish the salaries of their senior officers. How can they get away with witholding this important and interesting public information?

We the taxpayers pay their salaries. We have just seen how expense bills for MPs can be cut once the details are published and the public allowed to see and comment on the claims being made. If it works for public officials on £64,000 a year, surely it could work as well for public officials on six figure salaries? Why should they be immune to the cleansing winds of transparency?
Highly paid people on boards of private sector companies have to reveal all their remuneraiton in the accounts once a year. Why can’t we know what the Education Officer or the Planning Officer earns and claims?

One of David Cameron’s best and most radical policies for curbing the deficit and reducing needless and wasteful spending is his pledge to publish on line every item over £25,000 spent by central government, should he become Prime Minister. You should expect officials to become much more circumspect about what they spend if such a regime comes to pass. Why can’t we have it now from our local Councils?

We know that Councils can vary enormously in how much they charge for what they deliver. In my local area we have Parish Councils under both Lib dem and Conservative control. The Lib dem one charges £114.65 a year for a Band D household, twice the level of any Conservative one. The lowest cost Conservative Council charges just £17.50. Some of this is the range of things the Council thinks it needs to do, but some of it is efficiency and cost control. If we the public knew more of what they spend, we and our Councillors could be better watchdogs of the public purse. We might decide we want fewer things as well as seeing obvious ways to do more for less.

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36 Comments

  1. Hawkeye
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    £25? I thought it was £25K.

    Still, I like £25 better.

  2. David Cooper
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    The duty to publish remuneration details in company accounts is just one point of comparison with proper practice in the private sector. Members/shareholders of companies are also entitled to inspect directors’ service agreements. There is no good reason why council tax payers should not have equal unfettered access to the employment contracts for all senior council employees, ideally online. And it’s not just salary and benefits that will be of interest – the notice periods and severance terms may be just as interesting to read.

  3. Javelin
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Once the waste becomes public and the public will see where the saving can be made.

    A friend did some work at the BBC and was absolutely amazed about how unproductive and wasteful the whole place was.

  4. Julian
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    “One of David Cameron’s best and most radical policies for curbing the deficit and reducing needless and wasteful spending is his pledge to publish on line every item over £25,000 spent by central government”

    All well and good but how many purchases in the range £25k-100k will become more complex as they’re split into smaller peices? Not to mention more expensive because of more invoices, purchase orders etc.

  5. Colin D.
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    What we need is Council salaries AND any bonuses AND claimed expenses to get a real handle on what's going on.

  6. Norman
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    It is ridiculous that this isn't being published and the reasoning – senior management are worried they will receive abuse from their staff (at least according to the report I read). I can't understand this. How many of people sitting at a desk today would contemplate going into the boss's office and berate him because he is being paid more?

    If someone can justify their wage, let them justify it – what is there to be afraid of? We've, rightly or wrongly, held bankers in contempt this last year, again it's different rules for the private and public sector and private sectors workers are becoming sick of it.

  7. Stephen
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    "We have just seen how expense bills for MPs can be cut once the details are published…"

    Really?
    I thought it was costing us £6,000,000 per year to save a small amount on MPs expenses?

    Reply: The expenses MPs can claim have been cut. It is up to IPSA to justify its transparent costs for delivery.

    • StevenL
      Posted February 19, 2010 at 2:20 am | Permalink

      The £6m is a joke. The civil service only seem to know one way of doing things – set up a quango, complete with press officers, policy officers, strategy managers etc.

      I once stayed in a youth hostel with a girl who processed expenses claims for bankers. She could get through one months expenses for 15 bankers (including worldwide travel) in a day for £20 an hour.

      Do the math!

  8. A.Sedgwick
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I would like to see the splendid Taxpayers’ Alliance let loose on local government.

    • Nick
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Yes. Not only are they sensible (unlike me who'd just remove about four government departments and 80% of all quanogs) their cuts don't require research, they could just be made.

      I took a pay cut this year to stave off redundancy. That council tax is going up on my filth soaked, crime ridden, thug filled streets is revolting.

  9. Sally C.
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Couldn’t agree more. We definitely need more transparency from government, national or local. On that subject, how many people are aware that RBS, the bank that we own 84% of, has just moved into brand new swanky headquarters in New York. As cnbc.com notes ‘ The gleaming glass and steel building — planned years before the financial crisis curbed RBS’s sway over the British financial industry …has an outdoor terrace, a gym where workers can purchase massages and one of the largest trading floors in the world. The 11-story building would probably stir the ire of British taxpayers already reeling from a government bailout of more than $71 billion at today’s exchange rate. But perhaps luckily for the workers here, those taxpayers are an ocean away.’ H.mm!!

    This is the link for anyone interested :

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/35455899

    You may have to copy and paste it into your browser.

    • JimF
      Posted February 18, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      “It’s been a source of pride and kind of a rallying cry,” said Robert McKillip, the other co-head of global banking and markets in the Americas. “We’ve been through a lot.”

      A lot of taxpayers’ cash, that’s for sure. And that surname rings a bell.

      • Sally C.
        Posted February 18, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        Well spotted Jim. I am honestly starting to feel like one of the peasants in the French Revolution, you know, storming the Bastille and marching on Versailles…

        • Stuart Fairney
          Posted February 20, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

          You may now appreciate why hand guns were banned years ago. If you want to dominate a populace, disarm them first, ideally on the back of some bogus child safety issue. Then if they try a modern day "Bastille" or simply resist in any way, you can simply dominate them in a way you never could otherwise.

          I don't see DC legalising my former hobby however.

  10. startledcod
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Nothing, and especially independent quangos, will clean up politics and publics affairs so much as complete transparency.

    There are so many reasons why salaries, bonuses (can someone please explain why anyone in the public sector gets a bonus without making profits), expenses and the contracts signed should all be widely available, not the least that we pay for them all and, very importantly, have no choice as to whether to pay or not.

    If Council Chief Executives were to revert to their original title – Town Clerk, I think it would help in their understanding that they are the servants of the people that pay them.

  11. Chris
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I think it is essential that they publish as hopefully it will lead to more honest local government, and consequently more respect for and more trust in the workings of the local council. There is at present a strong perception that some councils are operating completely behind closed doors, that some staff are overpaid, and overclaiming, they are virtually unaccountable, and that they are arrogant in their dealings with the public, and that some may have dubious business connections. There is the feeling that some councils and council staff view themselves as separate from the public who they are supposed to be serving, and really operate as a privileged elite. It appears that some exploit the generous allowances/expenses system, yet are draconian/overzealous in their handling of the public e.g. surveillance, PC and Health and Safety, just to name a few, and they have scant regard for what their public really want, as witnessed by many a sham and costly consultation. It does seem that power corrupts. This is all the more damamaging when in the hands of individuals who are not that well informed. The prevailing culture of PC, the bureaucratic quagmire, and the almost complete lack of common sense in some council dealings have to be swept away before any real progress can be made in local government.

  12. gac
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Wage creep in local councils is offensive given how the council tax has hiked over the years.

    In my area the District Council – a disfunctional Conservative one unfortunately – has stopped funding the public toilets to save cash, and this in a tourist area. So our town council will have to put up its tranche from the rates to keep them open. Now we shall be paying twice for the same facility.

    Let us know where our money is going and to whom.

    I also thought that Mr Cameron said over £25?

  13. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    More and more on the gravy train. Local government, just like national government, is a very expensive joke – but it’s not funny for the mugs who are continually expected to pay out. As well as over-remunerated officers, Councillors are also overpaid and given high-faluting titles to justify their extravagance with other people’s money.

  14. Martin
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Don't forget the real hidden cost is the final salary pensions in apartheid Britain.

    I'd also like to see the press/lobbyists be required to publish their expenses and company tax paid more prominently. I'd be annoyed as an MP if I thought the journalists were having an often slanted go at me were the same journalists were wining and dining etc.

    The same goes for the newspaper owners with their offshore tax and similar arrangements. If the newspapers want more tanks, teachers, police, snow ploughs etc etc let them show the colour of their money too.

  15. Jane
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    It should be compulsory that all public funded bodies publish salaries and bonuses. I tire of reading that to attract the best candidates that local authorities, (and the BBC ) have to pay huge sums of money as well as generous pensions. I have read recently that a Police Authority provided over generous allowances to attract a new Chief Constable. I do not accept that there were insufficient candidates in applying for a Chief Constable’s job. Neither do I accept that there are insufficient candidates for senior Local Authority, Health Service jobs. We are continually insulted by those making such pathetic claims. We all know that the gap between public and private sector(with the exception of the City and Bankers) no longer exists. We all know that the effects of the recession are not being felt by the public sector. It is only the private sector that has had to reduce hours and accept pay cuts.

    It is not acceptable to hide salaries. I am hoping as an MP you may be able to do something about this? Perhaps those who seek to hide sallries are not only frightened of the taxpayer but of the highly paid person’s colleagues?

  16. JimF
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Incidentally the increases are being backdated but I somehow doubt the reductions are……

  17. TomTom
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    How many Local Government Acts have been passed since 1972 ? …..and not one of them required publication of Executive Remuneration…..even though private companies were obliged to report Executive Salaries in bands and to list the names of the top earning directors during that same period.

    Clearly our legislators had their minds elsewhere when these Local Government Acts were passed……expenses perhaps ?

  18. Robert K, Oxford
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Quite right. It’s our money. If they are feather-bedding they should be exposed. If they’re not, they have nothing to hide.

  19. JimF
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Now we have the "equal pay" agenda, which you would think would mean that pay would edge down in some areas and up in others with no net difference. Not likely. It seems that generally speaking 40% of employees are receiving increases and just 20% decreases. Bournemouth Town Hall for example has just released figures saying that the Council Tax bill will increase by £6.6 million because of this.

  20. Stuart Fairney
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    OT but I see Mr Cameron is now on the same page as Harriet Harman (!)
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politi

    Another thing that just screams "he's not a tory don't vote for his party"

    I want to vote conservative, I really, really do, but DC is killing me with this stuff

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted February 18, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      Stuart.
      I totally agree.

    • JimF
      Posted February 19, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Yes this is anti-meritocratic, and shows Cameron is on an equality kick. What's wrong with change that's slow, if you're abiding by your guiding principles?

  21. JohnRS
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I dont see why all payments to council staff shouldnt be published. Salaries, expenses, "other allowances" – it's all our money and we ought to know where it's going and why.

    Same with contract payments. £25k is far too high and will encourage figure-fiddling as disreputable councils start to do a lot of things that (amazingly) cost £24,999. I would have thought that £1,000 was a good threshold with all invoices automatically being routed to a public website as they were paid with no interference allowed from any council employee.

    We have to change the culture in the public sector so they realise they need to spend our money much more wisely and much less often.

  22. alan jutson
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Simple

    Just make public the wage scales for ALL jobs in the Council, and list how many in each job.

    Expenses for each person over £25.00. same for Mps.

    Also standard list pension rights available to most, and those special cases for the few.

    Whats the problem, you have to when recruiting new staff.

    As for contracts/purchase payments everything over £1,000 to be automatically listed.

  23. Ex Liverpool rioter
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Bloody Hell John, have you not seen this! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1251911/F

    Thought you be on this like a dog on rat!
    Mike

  24. thespecialone
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I have just been looking at the Craven District Council's website and some of the things they are getting up to. Why am I doing this when I live nowhere near Yorkshire? Well on ITV Tonight programmed they were talking about CCTV cameras and whether they were cost-effective. A man from Craven was interviewed and he said they had stopped using the cameras because it will save the council £60000 per year. Fair enough in these tough times, councils should be saving money. But then I thought 'couldnt Craven save money on ludicrous schemes elsewhere in their budget?'
    Like all councils, they have bought into the climate change scam and are spending huge amounts of money on it. They have a 'Carbon Reduction Officer' for instance. I wonder how much he/she gets in salary. There is also a 42 page document on how the council will combat 'climate change'. Ok, some of it was good such as what they will do to combat serious flooding. But has there never ever been flooding in Craven in years gone by? Did they need to include it in a 42 page document (how much did it cost to produce that?). Other far-reaching strategies are 'Promote Renewable micro generation in Craven'. They are going to hold roadshows to do that. How much does it cost to hold a 'roadshow'. One of the people responsible for actioning this is the 'LSP(what does this mean?) Climate Change Development Officer'. How much does this person earn I wonder?
    I think you get my point. All councils whether Tory,Labour, Lib Dem etc waste vast amounts of money. It is staggering how much council tax has gone up since 1997 and I hope that if the Tories are in power soon, they will tell councils to rein in spending and having a freeze on council tax.

  25. StevenL
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    One of the main problems with public spending is managers doing anything to use up their budget before the year end.

    There should be a body that scrutinises a random selection of central/quasi/local government departmental budgets. Private sector firms have anti-fraud systems in place, maybe the public sector needs an anti-waste unit.

  26. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    The reason that councils do not like to publish senior staff’s salaries is much the same as the reason that the government does not like to give full details of wasteful expenditure on wrongly conceived IT systems, and why the Social Services publish only summaries of negligence by their employees. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

  27. Martyn
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    John,

    Everyone, including you keep referring to Council and other ‘officials’ or ‘officers’. In my view they are nothing of the sort and should be referred to as ‘public servants’ to reflect the fact that it is the public who pay their salaries.
    Does anyone know why our elected representatives at district and county level have delegated so many of their powers to these unelected public servants?
    And as for their pension pots – about 4-5 years back my district council, with an annual tax-based and investment income of around £5m paid a £6m top-up into their employee pensions pot. The rest of us of course watch as our pensions go down in buying power day by day. Someone should make a root and branch cull of these feather-bedded public servants…..

    Reply: Civil servants are known as officials and local civil servants as officers. Some Councillors want to give their powers to officers under delegated systems. Others have been outwitted by clever officers, using conflict of interest, standing orders and other legal rules to make it difficult for Councillors to engage in decisions where we would like them to. Getting into office is easier than getting into power.

    • Martyn
      Posted February 19, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Thank you – I didn’t know that there was such a fine distinction in the terms used. It just seems to me that it obscures the fact that they are allegedly appointed to serve the public and less so their own self-interests. Silly of me, I suppose…..

      reply: I was not disagreeing with your point, merely explaining my use of conventional language.

      • Martyn
        Posted February 19, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        Apologies for giving wrong impression – I didn't take your first comment as disagreement, but informative because I really wasn't aware of the distinction in terms used in this context.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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