Mixed messages from Hull City Council

In our latest report on local authority middle management pay, published last Wednesday, we revealed 270 employees of Hull City Council were paid in excess of £50,000 a year. I was invited to debate the issue on BBC Radio Humberside with the leader of the council, Steve Brady.

During the course of the interview, Cllr Brady said the true figure was 108 and, when you take out staff outside the town hall like teachers, the figure was 65. He also went on to say that the 2011-12 budget was under the Liberal Democrats. "It was their budget that year that was presented to council", he said. The statement of accounts is an official document, whoever is in charge, but even putting that to one side, when he became leader in May 2011 he published an emergency budget.

Darryl Stephenson, the council's chief executive, told us to check the latest Pay Policy Statement for the relevant information. We did, and found there are a total of "83 staff including the officers above who earn over £50,000 per annum." This information is however for the 2012-13 financial year which is yet to finish and not the year our report looked at. To add more confusion into the mix, in a statement last Thursday, the council said a fair figure for all management posts paid at present above £50,000 is 63 - coincidentally, the same amount of employees earning over £50,000 as neighbouring East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

So we now have five different figures from the same council: 270, 108, 65, 83, and 63

Let's go back to the beginning. We took our data from Hull City Council's 2011-12 accounts. Under the title "Officers Remuneration" 270 people were listed as having an income above £50,000 a year. There is no indication that the numbers include teachers, as there is in other local authorities' accounts, like nearby Bradford.

Cllr Brady said teachers were included in that figure. When I challenged him on air that it doesn't say that in the accounts, he agreed with me and said they should have made that clear. This is how he arrives at the figure of 108. Cllr Brady then says when you remove the coroner and educational psychiatrists, etc, from the list, the figure is reduced to 65.

It seems the council just doesn't know the exact figure, although Cllr Brady did admit the council had "over-manipulated in the wrong direction previously by stating there were 270."

The council has also attacked the Hull Daily Mail for publishing an article based on our figures. But the newspaper was absolutely right to go with the figure we quoted from the audited accounts presented by the Local Authority. We quoted the figures accurately, and in line with the methodology used throughout the report, and the Hull Daily Mail quoted our research accurately. The confusion cannot be laid at our door, or the door of the local press. The confusion emanates directly from the Guildhall in Hull.

Nothing about this story has been simple, although the moral is: if Hull City Council was more transparent and presented information in the right way, we would not be having these arguments. A quick glance on the US State of Kentucky's website tells you nearly 43,000 people work for the State, and you can search individual departments and find out what salaries are paid and what jobs employees do.

This is the sort of transparency we desperately need in the UK. When we receive a Council Tax demand, it is just that - a demand; we legally have to pay it. That is our part of the deal, and in return councils should tell us exactly where our money is going.

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