By Sara Rainwater, operations director at the TaxPayers' Alliance
I’ve lived in the London Borough of Sutton for five years now. Shortly after moving here, I started hearing about various mismanagements by the council, such as the local SEND scandal, when hundreds of special needs children were denied additional support. Even more worrying was what I started to hear about the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network Ltd (SDEN to us locals), the loss-making council-owned company that was heavily criticised in a recent independent report by accountancy watchdog CIPFA.
These kinds of grand council failings can make one’s blood boil on a good day. But, every spring, the publication of our annual Town Hall Rich List, combined with council tax increases really serves to highlight how bad things are going in my patch. .
I first wrote about my council tax increasing in March 2020. I now find myself writing about yet another increase. My council tax is going up by 2.99% to £1,933 (Band D, including all the London precepts) - a £173 increase in two years! Sutton Council now ranks 7th highest out of the 33 London boroughs.
So, let’s compare this council tax rise against the pay of Sutton’s senior management:
- Sutton Council’s Chief Executive Helen Bailey got a total remuneration package of £217,365 in 2020/21.
- Five other senior officers received over £100,000 in total remuneration for the same period.
According to our latest Town Hall Rich list, Sutton’s chief executive will have the 52nd highest salary out of 283 CEOs recorded. In terms of the total number of staff earning over £100,000, the borough ranked 56th highest out of 403 councils recorded.
And what about the 54 councillors elected by the people of Sutton to run the borough? The latest published data from 2019/20 shows:
- Councillors received a basic allowance of £11,163 (with one exception, who received £8,372).
- 24 councillors received special responsibility allowances totalling £293,598.
- Liberal Democrat leader of the council, Ruth Dombey, received the highest special responsibility allowance at £43,748.
- Including travel and other expenses, the 54 councillors cost the Sutton taxpayer £902,018 in 2019/20 - an average of £16,704 per councillor.
Compare this to next door borough Merton, which ranks 16th out of 33 for council tax. Looking at the same financial year of 2019/20, Merton’s 64 councillors cost a total of £697,796 - only £10,903 each.
Sutton paid £204,222 more for 10 less councillors. Senior management are paid a small fortune. Yet local people are beset by council cockups and rising council tax. Something about all this just doesn’t add up.
A well-run council may be difficult to define exactly, but you know one when you see one. The key metrics will be low council tax, with limited, proportional increases, combined with well-run services and limited waste. Badly-run councils on the other hand will be incompetent, continuously pushing taxes up to the maximum while paying their own eye-watering sums of money.
Unfortunately for the residents of Sutton, it’s clear what type of council we have.