Yesterday, the TaxPayers' Alliance released the Town Hall Rich List 2009 and findings including the some 1,000 people earn at least £100,000 per year. In response to this report, the Chief Executive of the Local Government, John Ransford, defended high public sector salaries by saying that they are the way to attract the brightest and the best of the workforce.
Ransford said that "Councils are responsible for ensuring that more than £100bn of taxpayers' money is spent wisely and provides more than 800 activities local people want and need." The TPA understands that some councils do manage large constituencies and massive budgets responsibly, but the fact is, a number of them simply do not. Some of the most generously remunerated council officials oversaw massive losses in Icelandic banks and now are instituting rises in council tax and cuts in services.
Ransford also stated that "Unlike the private sector people can show whether they think this is wrong by voting at the ballot box." The problem with this argument is that remuneration of senior officials is not voluntarily released, and as our FOI campaign has shown, some councils still refuse even when the information is requested. In the present climate, it is very difficult for taxpayers to influence executive remuneration with their votes when they are kept in the dark about it to begin with. The idea of democratic accountability cannot exist.
But the most alarming issue is the lack of transparency in spending by these local authorities. Private businesses publish full and detailed accounts of their finances and investors hold them accountable for every penny that changes hands. Some local councils seem to be of the impression that they are exempt from this level of transparency and accountability. They withhold information on the remuneration of their most senior executives, those that make binding policy and finance decisions. In doing so these councils adopt a patronising view that what they do with taxpayers' money is not information the public have a right to know. This is absolutely not the case. Taxpayers have every right to know how those that organise their public services and handle their tax revenues are rewarded. Councils must remember that the money they are spending is not theirs.
And senior executives are not the only individuals receiving massive remuneration and payouts; the increase in the number of people receiving over £100,000 annually is staggering. Middle management officers are creeping into very senior remuneration bands, and then some councils argue that the details of these council officials (such as their names and job titles) need not be made public as they are not senior enough. This reflects the fact that public sector pay rises are generally increasing at a higher rate than those in the private sector. It is also frustrating to taxpayers that such large sums of their money are going home with individuals that councils believe do not need to be made public. Mr. Ransford argued that the people named in the Town Hall Rich List 2009 make up a very small portion of those employed by local authorities. But when the number of people earning over £100,000 in a given council can double in a single year, it seems inevitable that this will be the case for long. It also begs the question of how long these pay rises are sustainable and what will the cost to taxpayers be?
In the end, we do not object to every senior executive of local authorities being compensated well for their work. We simply present this information to the public as an opportunity for people to ask whether their locality is getting good value for money. Council executives can defend their pay by showing their successes and prove that they have provided their constituents with quality services that operate efficiently and without taxing them to the limit. We applaud councils that cut taxes and decrease spending and successfully manage their ward. Finally, we encourage transparency in all government spending so that taxpayers, voters, can decide for themselves whether they are getting the best bang for their buck.