As my colleague posted yesterday, Kent County Council Chief Executive Peter Gilroy, who last year was England's highest paid local government employee, has been fighting an increasingly desperate rearguard action to try to keep his salary secret from the taxpayers who foot the bill.
His fairly weak excuse was that when we revealed his salary last year he had received "abuse" from taxpayers who felt they weren't getting value for money. Our point has always been that the way to rectify that problem is to do a better job and/or claim less pay, not refuse to tell taxpayers how their money is spent.
So we were delighted to read in today's Kent Messenger, which has just landed on our internet doormat, that
THE salaries of Kent County Council's top officers are to be disclosed after all following following a change of heart by the authority's chief executive.
Apparently, Mr Gilroy has not just had a change of heart, he's had
discussions with the council's legal bosses.
We suspect it's more to do with the discussions we've been having with the Kent Messenger, the Daily Express and ITV Meridian News, and the discussions TPA activists have had with Mr Gilroy's email inbox!
This is a great victory for Kent's taxpayers, who get to find out how their money is spent despite the obscuring attempts of some bureaucrats who would rather keep the public in the dark. It's also another testament to the strength of the TaxPayers' Alliance as a combination of media and grassroots campaigning - following on from the encouraging news that Edinburgh council are reviewing publicity spending as a result of our Council Spending Uncovered campaign. We've got to make it more painful to be secretive than it is to be open. If Mr Gilroy thought he was saving himself trouble by trying to keep the information quiet, we have proved him very wrong. Hopefully next time he'll realise that openness is far preferable to secrecy.
First Edinburgh, now Kent - it may be a long road, but we really can get the public sector into shape; one council at a time if needs be.
It's telling that other KCC officials realised what the reality of the situation was before their Chief Exec did, and have been scurrying to distance themselves from his obstinacy by leaking undermining information to the press. The Kent Messenger has reported that "his own advisers warned he risked looking incredibly silly" and that "his intervention came despite being advised by his own officials that under the Freedom of Information Act, the council ought to publish the details" (here and here) - whispers that can only have come from his own office.
This is increasingly a generational issue, illustrated by this split between Mr Gilroy and his advisors. Younger politicians and civil servants are more aware that people are simply sick of secrecy, behind-closed-doors and need-to-know in politics and the public sector. Those who think they can simply decree that the public shall not be allowed to know where their money goes, or think they should be above scrutiny are increasingly rare dinosaurs who are going to find it more and more difficult to ignore that times are changing.
PS Oddly enough, all that money that Kent County Council spend on publicity seems not to be making much of an impact. I've just done a debate on BBC Radio Kent against Cllr Alex King, the Deputy Leader, who was arguing that KCC aren't going to release the information, even when I confronted him with the Kent Messenger article referenced above. Either he needs to get a briefing before he goes on air of the Council's latest position, or they've lied to the Kent Messenger about their U-turn. Neither is a sign of a great PR department, or that the £6,586,000 publicity budget is being well-spent...
Either way, you might want to drop him a line to tell him how wrong he is to still be arguing for this information to be kept secret. Here are his contact details:
Cllr Alex King,
Slip Mill Road,
Kent TN18 4JT