Councillors on Camden Council have disputed the numbers for their council in this year's Town Hall Rich List, which was compiled using the council's own accounts. This isn't unusual: every year a few councils object to the figures and they're usually mistaken, most frequently because they object to the idea of employer's pension contributions being included in the total remuneration funded by taxpayers. Employers' pension contributions should be included because it is part of the financial reward that senior staff get for their work.
Council leader Sarah Hayward repeatedly called the TPA’s spokesman a liar on Channel 5 News, stating that the number should have been 16. Theo Blackwell then blogged that the “actual figure is 16 (or 24 however you count it)”. Hayward then took to Twitter and suggested that the correct number could be 25. They can't get their story straight.
The remuneration report of a council’s accounts is presented in two parts: a) a set of remuneration bands; b) a more detailed disclosure of senior officers' pay. When compiling the Town Hall Rich List, our researchers have to determine whether or not the remuneration bands include the senior officers subject to further disclosure or not. Many councils make it easy for taxpayers to understand how their senior staff are paid by stating clearly whether the two lists overlap or not.
For councils like Camden which don’t make this clear, we have to work it out for ourselves by seeing whether or not the reported remuneration of the senior officers fits into the reported numbers in different pay bands. Bearing in mind that the numbers in the bands refer to remuneration excluding pension contributions, it was concluded that Camden’s accounts did not include the senior officers for two reasons:
1.R Stoppard, Director - Culture and environment, received remuneration of £159,510 in 2011-12. The highest band for 2011-12 is 150,000-154,999.
2.In the bands for 2011/12, there are two employees listed in the £110,000-£114,999 band. In the senior officers’ disclosure, we can see Assistant Director - Adult Social Care with remuneration of £111,055, Assistant Director - Housing Needs & Resources with remuneration of £110,219 and Deputy Director of Finance on £111,522. That makes three which would be in this band if the senior employees were included, but only two were reported.
We tried to call and confirm that interpretation but we were never put through to anyone who could help. With over four hundred local authorities, there are limits to the extent that we can chase up every single case and we have to rely on most council's accounts providing enough clarity for someone to read them in good faith and understand their meaning.
Camden is now claiming that the bands do in fact include the senior officers and the TPA has double counted. For this to be true, Camden must not regard “variable pay” as part of remuneration, a bizarre definition that is not used by any other local authority, at least to my knowledge. If that is the case then the correct figure will not be as high as 40. But neither will it be anything like as low as the 16 they have been claiming.
Even if this is the case, none of the three figures used by Camden can be accurate. The number must in fact be at least 26. This is because the table of staff numbers in remuneration bands lists 4 employees who received between £100,000 to £104,999 whereas the table for 'senior officers' remuneration displays only 3 within that band. That means one employee must have received remuneration within that range who does not qualify as a 'senior officer'. Meanwhile, the table detailing senior officers' remuneration lists 25 employees who received over £100,000.
Both employers' pension contributions and variable pay should be included and there are that many people making £100,000 a year in total remuneration just in the senior officers' disclosure. That means that Camden is at least still in the top 10 councils by number of staff earning over £100,000 a year.
Blackwell’s blog also said that “the TPA seem to have got to their figure(s) by double counting (e.g. saying we have two Chief Execs in one year, which we did but not at the same time!)” It is very clearly explained in the report that “each entry refers to an individual not a position" and that is quite right. If there are two Chief Executives over that year and both of them manage to earn over £100,000 within that year, of course they should both be included in our list.
Hayward has demanded a correction and apology from the TPA, but she and her staff have yet to provide the coherent or consistent information that we need in order to be able to correct the report. Until they provide a clear statement with full details on all of their staff receiving total remuneration of more than £100,000 (including but not limited to employers' pension contributions and variable pay) we cannot make a correction. It would be unfair on more transparent councils if we gave Camden special treatment.
There are three important conclusions:
1.If there is an error in the Town Hall Rich List it is the result of unclear and incomplete information in Camden council's accounts. It does not imply any systematic problem with the way that the list is produced, as most local authorities make it easy to tell whether or not there is an overlap between the pay bands and the remuneration report.
2.Remuneration for senior staff at Camden council is among the most generous in the country, including a Director - Culture and Environment - who received as much as the head of MI5.
3.There should be greater standardisation in council accounts so they can’t evade transparency with creative reporting.