Responses to the Town Hall Rich List

March 17, 2011 2:44 PM

The Town Hall Rich List always gets quite a reaction. There has been some great coverage, Elle - 19 from Hertfordshire - told the Sun she was stunned to hear 48 council fat-cats had each received more than £250,000 last year. She said: "It brought to mind a quote by John Morley, first Viscount Morley of Blackburn, who said 'In my creed, waste of public money is like the sin against the Holy Ghost'."

There has been some criticism. The LGA argue that it is just a blip, a result of a lot of redundancy payments. That is certainly part of the story but there are three reasons the findings are still very serious. First, the amounts being paid have been high and rising for a number of years, as we have shown in the Town Hall Rich List series. The sustained pattern of generous rewards for senior staff at local authorities can't be explained away as a blip. Second, the rise this year can't entirely be explained by redundancy payments. We looked at the average for all those in post for the full two years and found an average 3.8 per cent rise in total remuneration. Finally, it is important those redundancy payments are properly scrutinised. We have seen real scandals before with excessive payments to council bosses leaving their posts, like the long running anger over the scandal of Barbara Lockwood's £364,000 payout at the East Riding of Yorkshire council.

We've also had a call from the London Borough of Hillingdon for a correction. Basically they are complaining because some of the information they supplied is incomplete, and as a result the percentage change figure couldn't be complete either. Here's our little e-mail exchange:

First, after she initially got in contact complaining the report was inaccurate Emma Boon clarified the situation:

Hi,Thanks for your feedback on the Town Hall Rich List 2011, I have checked the data for Hillingdon and it is correct. We do not twist information and it is all rigorously checked. You might not like the way it is presented but it is part of a consistent methodology to allow fair comparisons between different years and staff. Here is the full report in case you have not seen original source: http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/thrl2011.pdf

The notes next to the DCEO’s details on p145 clearly state that 08-09 figs are a part year salary and give full year equivalent. The percentage increase relates to the two columns to the left of it (total remuneration 08-09 and 09-10) and is correct in keeping with our methodology so there is no correction to be made.

Best,
Emma

EMMA BOON
Campaign Director | The TaxPayers' Alliance

Charlotte Stamper, Public Relations Officer at the council, wasn't happy:

Hi Emma,

Thanks for the reply.

I understand what you've done but your methodology is wrong - in this one example you are comparing apples with pears unfortunately. Where you have the figure for 2008-09, the part year figure does not include pension contribution which it should do given that the heading for the column is 'remuneration' and that you have included it in the 2009-10 column.

If you are not including pension contributions, the columns should read 'salary' and not 'remuneration'.

So the figure for the pro-rata salary and pension contribution in column 2008-09 should be £159,420. We are not disputing the figure of £165,000 for 2009-10.

Whether or not it is your methodology, comparing part year salaries without pension contributions with pro-rata salaries including pension contributions is not only wrong, but very misleading.

Please make this correction so the percentage increase column reads 3.5 per cent.

Many thanks. Please let me know if I can help further.
Charlotte

Charlotte Stamper
Public Relations Officer
Corporate Communications
London Borough of Hillingdon

Here is my reply:

Charlotte,

Emma has asked me to respond to your request for a correction. The report perfectly represents the information that was available to us, so one will not be forthcoming. We will by all means publish additional information if your council wants to be open with its residents and make possible proper scrutiny of remuneration for all senior staff. But that will not amount to a correction, as there is nothing to correct.

In many cases staff served only partial years in one of the years studied, leading to high percentage changes. Or we only had partial information. Others received significant redundancy payments. We included the percentage changes for all those in the Rich List to ensure the report was complete but also detailed notes so readers could get the fullest picture we could provide. To complement that, we worked out an average which only included those in post for the full two years.

Your council’s accounts for 2009-10 are attached. On page 37 the term “Remuneration Band” is used as the header for a table column which delineates the remuneration of staff, excluding pension contributions. So the London Borough of Hillingdon uses the same terminology that the London Borough of Hillingdon is asking us to issue a correction for using.

Before you start attacking external research perhaps you should check these things over with your finance department, or even better read the accounts yourself. You would find other interesting information like the substantial losses the Borough has suffered from putting its residents’ money in Icelandic Banks – despite clear warnings they weren’t safe. Clearly the council’s senior staff are earning their high pay. I will be publishing this e-mail on our website, in the interests of a transparent debate. And residents can decide if the Borough’s significant publicity budget is well spent.

Best,
Matt Sinclair

MATTHEW SINCLAIR
Director | The TaxPayers' Alliance


We then received the following response:


Matthew,

Thank you for your email. Hillingdon Council is very open with our residents and we publish senior staff pay on our website and in our council magazine. The problem is not with this information being available; it is with it being presented in a warped way.

I take on board your point about the wording of 'remuneration' but that still does not explain why the columns in your table give such a different impression to what the reality actually is.

Burying this information in a large report has the potential to mislead and as you may understand, residents will be very alarmed to read that an officer is having a pay rise of nearly 50 per cent when in fact it was only 3.5 per cent.

I am disappointed you have resorted to petty comments rather than adequately addressing what are genuine concerns.

Please do include my replies to your emails on your website.

Charlotte


Charlotte Stamper
Public Relations Officer
Corporate Communications
London Borough of Hillingdon


To which we replied:


Charlotte,
The notes are no less prominent than the increase in remuneration. They are in the same row of the same table. We haven’t buried them at all.
We have just published to our blog, with your earlier reply, and to be honest I don’t think this little exchange is worth adding to that.
Best,
Matt
MATTHEW SINCLAIR
Director | The TaxPayers' Alliance

And finally:

Matthew,

In the interests of transparency and fairness, please include all correspondence, including this and my previous email.

Many thanks
Charlotte

Charlotte Stamper
Public Relations Officer
Corporate Communications
London Borough of Hillingdon

Clearly, their devastating arguments have us on the ropes.

If you aren't impressed by attempts to evade accountability over senior staff pay, you might want to let the council leader know, Councillor Raymond Puddifoot. You can e-mail him here.

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