Straight Talking with Peter Davies: The case to cut top council chiefs’ pay

Doncaster's  Civic Offices.
Doncaster's Civic Offices.

Most Doncaster council tax payers will be appalled to learn that the chief executives serving South Yorkshire’s four local authorities rake in £750,000 per annum between them, while essential services and vital jobs at lower levels are reduced or dispensed with completely.

In Doncaster, Jo Miller pockets £180,000 in pay, expenses and pension contributions. The chief executive is also the head of the workforce but since that workforce has shrunk over the last five years it is not unreasonable to suggest that the pay grade should be adjusted accordingly. As far as Doncaster’s various council services are concerned, most are farmed out to a variety of organisations which already have their own highly-paid chief executives – on or above the six-figure mark. These include St Leger Homes, the Culture and Leisure Trust, the Children’s Trust and Public Health. On top of all this, waste disposal and dustbin collections are contracted out, all secondary schools are now academies outside council control and all council care homes have been privatised.

The Passenger Transport Executive which is in charge of Doncaster’s buses, also has a chief executive and a large bureaucracy.

Apart from rubber-stamping ill-thought-out government policies, apparently without any meaningful challenge, it is difficult to see what Doncaster Council is now responsible for and why we are paying for at least six chief executives along with another 12 in-house staff also earning over £100,000 per annum.

The chief executive tag was an unwelcome result of reforms in 1974.

Previously, when local government was cheap, efficient and well-respected, we had a town clerk who received a moderate salary and was committed to serving the area in which he lived.

In 1974, certain trade union and pen-pushing opportunists saw the new larger authorities as cash cows through which they could pretend that their activities were of great importance and command the pay rates they still enjoy today.

Eric Pickles MP suggested that elected mayors should also double as chief executives. The excellent Labour mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, did exactly that on taking office and the city appears to be a local government success story.

So there is clearly a case for cutting the wages and status of these under-employed mouthpieces on £150,000 plus. Perhaps the old title of town clerk could be reintroduced and salaries cut by half. But it is optimistic to expect Cameron and Osborne to reduce wasteful council spending when they can impoverish lowly-paid workers who have long since lost interest in the political process.