Council bosses told to reveal pay and perks

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Indy Politics

Council chief executives will be forced to reveal their salaries, bonuses and pension agreements to the public under new laws to be introduced by the Government designed to clamp down on council "fat cats", The Independent has learnt.

Town hall chief executives and top earners will also have to disclose financial perks they receive under the new rules, such as private cars, chauffeurs and accommodation. They will also be obliged to reveal the size of any pay-offs they receive upon leaving their posts.

The crackdown, which will come in time to cover payments made to council chief executives this year, comes amid revelations that some were being awarded bigger salaries than the Prime Minister. Stoke-on-Trent City Council announced earlier this month that it was offering its next chief executive a salary of £195,000, about £10,000 more than Gordon Brown's salary and £50,000 more than the amount handed to its previous chief executive, Steve Robinson.

The highest-paid local authority boss is thought to be the chief executive of the London Borough of Newham, Joe Duckworth. According to the Taxpayer's Alliance, Mr Duckworth earns a basic salary of £240,000. Andrea Hill, who was appointed the chief executive of Suffolk County Council last year, earns £220,000 a year. Kingston-upon-Hull pays its chief executive, Kim Ryley, £213,162.

John Healey, the Local Government minister, told The Independent: "We've seen top council salaries spiralling recently. We've seen some councils change top managers like premiership football clubs, sometimes with big pay-offs for failure. The level of disclosure we require for councils is well short of that which we require for top civil servants and I think the public need to know the full picture."

Research by the Audit Commission recently found that council chief executive pay had risen by more than a third in the past four years. Currently, councils only have to provide very limited information on salaries in their annual reports.

Mr Healey added: "These are big organisations that need the best calibre people, but they have to be ready to defend what they do and answer to the voters for the decisions they make." It would be a means for people to "put their councils on the spot for the pay and perks they give out. It will make councils think a lot harder."

Ministers stopped short of introducing a pay cap on salaries and bonuses, believing there were too many the differences between councils to make a system workable. The new rules also follow recommendations from the Information Commissioner this week, who suggested details of council performance-related pay and top-earner bonuses should be placed in the public domain.

Local government figures warned that the rules may deter the best people from taking on tough positions at councils at a time when they will need experienced leaders.

David Clark, the director general of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, said: "Taxpayers have a legitimate interest to how their money is being spent. But these are big, complex organisations and particularly at a time of economic downturn, you want the most competent people to do those jobs.

"It is not true that salaries are spiralling out of control... The public sector needs great managers because we are heading for a bad time and the public will want good services without an increase in taxes."