NHS Blog Doctor's attack on the Town Hall Rich List 2008 and the TaxPayers' Alliance is a mix of ignorance and irrelevance. Little more than a dishonest and misleading smear.
First, he makes the startling discovery that the TaxPayers' Alliance thinks tax is a bad thing. That with the high rates of tax that we have now no tax rise can be justified. Why he needed to look at our mission statement to discover this will remain a mystery. While we only discuss the reasons why we think levels of tax are too high briefly in our mission statement we have produced a wide range of research on the subject.
He then moves on to discuss the Town Hall Rich List 2008. He accuses us of fraud and "sailing close to the law of defamation", serious charges, without a shred of evidence. There isn't a single quote from the TPA in this section. Instead, he makes up a load of over the top arguments that we supposedly "[want] you to infer."
The quote he makes up is "anyone not working in the private sector who earns £100,000 or more is ipso facto an undeserving, lazy, overpaid fat cat". Our actual quotes are very different:
Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“Taxpayers have a right to know how much senior town hall officials are being paid because only then can we judge whether they deserve their remuneration. Too often, council executives are rewarded handsomely even when they fail. Families and pensioners are struggling with the demands of yet another council tax rise, and councils owe it to them to cut back on executive pay hikes.”
Ben Farrugia, Policy Analyst at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“Some local government executives still feel that what they’re paid is not the taxpayer’s business. But with council tax bills now tipping many families over the edge, it is more important than ever that councils are open and transparent about their costs. Council employees must be accountable to the local residents who pay them.”
Coming from someone who, so frequently, accuses us of distortion making up "an inflammatory out-of-context quote" is dismal hypocrisy. With council tax having doubled in the last decade we do need to ask serious questions about the performance of councils and whether they are justifying high remuneration for senior officials. Trying to paint this as some kind of undifferentiated smear is an ugly response to our study.
After that we get a long and largely irrelevant discussion of the qualities of those working in the City. This is a pre-amble to the charge that if we think the public are entitled to know how much senior council staff are paid we should also be exposing how much those employed in the private sector earn. This is the basis of his challenge to us:
"Will the founders of and writers for the TPA make a public declaration of their earnings?"
No. No one is forced to financially support the TaxPayers' Alliance. As our organisation is not funded from their taxes there is no legitimate public interest in our earnings.
NHS Blog Doctor almost completely ignores the basic point that we have made repeatedly, including in the quotes above: the public have a right to know what senior officials earn because they are the ones paying the bill. In order to prevent public sector organisations being run for the benefit of staff rather than the taxpaying public there needs to be accountability. Not just to decide whether or not staff are being paid "too much" or "too little" but so that they can decide if they are getting the performance that would justify the amounts seen in the Town Hall Rich List. If that kind of information is not made publicly available then in elections to local councils voters will have less to go on.
NHS Blog Doctor's only nod to the difference between private and public spheres is "in most cases, these [private sector] salaries were paid out of the pension funds to which people on more modest incomes contribute". That isn't true for those who work for non-profits funded by private donors - like the TaxPayers' Alliance. That is only accurate to the extent that the remuneration of directors at public limited companies is the business of shareholders who pick up the bill. Now, there are two ways in which senior staff at those public limited companies are held accountable.
- Through corporate institutions designed to deliver effective accountability. These operate both through the potential for shareholders to rebel (as they, on occasion do) and the more mundane business of selling your share in companies that are being run in the interests of staff, rather than shareholders, and in doing so, exposing a company to takeover by other firms with better behaved directors.
- By the legal requirement to report directors' earnings in their annual accounts. It is a statutory requirement that the numbers we established for local authorities are published in the annual accounts of companies and public bodies.
In short, the TaxPayers' Alliance absolutely stands by the public's right to know how much senior council staff are paid because they pay the bill. When the public don't have that, legitimate, interest the earnings can, and often should, remain private. NHS Blog Doctor's attack on our study is nothing more than a meaningless slur.