Wiltshire Chief Executive goes

October 14, 2011 10:00 AM

Three cheers for Wiltshire County Council (WCC) leader Jane Scott. After weeks of speculation and postponed meetings, the decision was finally made to jettison their chief executive, Andrew Kerr. ‘The buck stops with me,’ she says. ‘This is an organisation which is led by politicians, not by officers, and that is what we are talking about here.’

The move was made to help save £1.4 million from the council’s budget, but £4m is being put aside to pay for the redundancies of Kerr and one of four corporate directors removed alongside him.

Criticism has been levelled at Cllr Scott for initially agreeing to the employment of a chief executive when WCC became a unitary authority in 2009, but she has hit back by saying she wasn’t happy at the time with the extra expense of paying for Kerr’s £183,000 salary. ‘I didn’t want to pay out for such a post in particular,’ says Scott, ‘but my hands were tied by the DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] transitional arrangements to enable us to move to one authority.’

One Wiltshire local questions why chief executives are paid so much in the first place: ‘CEs aren’t the chief policy makers in local government, but they are paid salaries comparable to their private sector equivalents who have more responsibility.’

[caption id="attachment_41301" align="alignright" width="242" caption="Some more than others, though"][/caption]Since the beginning of this year, as part of its Localism Bill, the current government is seeking to answer this question. ‘There is increasing evidence that senior pay in local government,’ says its publicationon the subject, ‘has escalated in recent years and that the process for determining senior pay lacks transparency and local democratic accountability to taxpayers.’ An Audit Commission report found that basic salary levels for county council chief executives has risen by 34 per cent between 2003/04 and 2007/08. This was well above the level of their counterparts in universities and hospital trusts, as well as in the private sector. The report explains this by saying that a high turnover rate in local government chief executives has led to councils out-bidding each other for competent senior officers and whacking up their salary costs.

It also hasn’t helped that the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has been involved in setting the pay for their own members! An amusing justification of their own jobs can be viewed on their website and includes a variety of demanding roles from promoting local democracy to ensuring cohesive communities. How ever did we manage without them? But clearly WCC feels they can do very well without their guiding hand.

In order to deal with the problem of excessive chief executive pay, the government has put forward several options, one of which is to introduce a central cap on senior salaries. However, because this conflicts with the essential ethos of the Localism Bill, which is to transfer power to local communities, such a measure is not being recommended. Instead, it is favouring an option that requires local authorities to approve and publish annual senior pay statements. This may improve transparency, but will do little to stop council’s outbidding each other for supposedly talented chief executives and escalating their wages. So, sadly, a bit of a fudge, in which an attempt to understand and defeat wasteful high salaries is undercut by its own localism philosophy.

There is speculation now that Kerr may apply for the position of chief executive at Bath and North East Somerset Council, when their current chief executive retires. If this happens, it will be yet another case of a senior council officer grabbing a fat taxpayers’ cheque before moving straight into another highly paid post. Easy money if you can get it.Three cheers for Wiltshire County Council (WCC) leader Jane Scott. After weeks of speculation and postponed meetings, the decision was finally made to jettison their chief executive, Andrew Kerr. ‘The buck stops with me,’ she says. ‘This is an organisation which is led by politicians, not by officers, and that is what we are talking about here.’

The move was made to help save £1.4 million from the council’s budget, but £4m is being put aside to pay for the redundancies of Kerr and one of four corporate directors removed alongside him.

Criticism has been levelled at Cllr Scott for initially agreeing to the employment of a chief executive when WCC became a unitary authority in 2009, but she has hit back by saying she wasn’t happy at the time with the extra expense of paying for Kerr’s £183,000 salary. ‘I didn’t want to pay out for such a post in particular,’ says Scott, ‘but my hands were tied by the DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] transitional arrangements to enable us to move to one authority.’

One Wiltshire local questions why chief executives are paid so much in the first place: ‘CEs aren’t the chief policy makers in local government, but they are paid salaries comparable to their private sector equivalents who have more responsibility.’

[caption id="attachment_41301" align="alignright" width="242" caption="Some more than others, though"][/caption]Since the beginning of this year, as part of its Localism Bill, the current government is seeking to answer this question. ‘There is increasing evidence that senior pay in local government,’ says its publicationon the subject, ‘has escalated in recent years and that the process for determining senior pay lacks transparency and local democratic accountability to taxpayers.’ An Audit Commission report found that basic salary levels for county council chief executives has risen by 34 per cent between 2003/04 and 2007/08. This was well above the level of their counterparts in universities and hospital trusts, as well as in the private sector. The report explains this by saying that a high turnover rate in local government chief executives has led to councils out-bidding each other for competent senior officers and whacking up their salary costs.

It also hasn’t helped that the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has been involved in setting the pay for their own members! An amusing justification of their own jobs can be viewed on their website and includes a variety of demanding roles from promoting local democracy to ensuring cohesive communities. How ever did we manage without them? But clearly WCC feels they can do very well without their guiding hand.

In order to deal with the problem of excessive chief executive pay, the government has put forward several options, one of which is to introduce a central cap on senior salaries. However, because this conflicts with the essential ethos of the Localism Bill, which is to transfer power to local communities, such a measure is not being recommended. Instead, it is favouring an option that requires local authorities to approve and publish annual senior pay statements. This may improve transparency, but will do little to stop council’s outbidding each other for supposedly talented chief executives and escalating their wages. So, sadly, a bit of a fudge, in which an attempt to understand and defeat wasteful high salaries is undercut by its own localism philosophy.

There is speculation now that Kerr may apply for the position of chief executive at Bath and North East Somerset Council, when their current chief executive retires. If this happens, it will be yet another case of a senior council officer grabbing a fat taxpayers’ cheque before moving straight into another highly paid post. Easy money if you can get it.

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