Council middle managers 'up 20% in year'

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The number of middle managers employed by councils has jumped by more than 20 per cent in the space of a year, according to a report released today.

The TaxPayers' Alliance, which campaigns for lower taxes, released figures showing that the number of staff with remuneration packages worth £50,000 or more in councils across the UK rose from 31,000 in 2006/07 to almost 37,000 in 2007/08 - a hike of almost 22 per cent.

The total bill for these employees was nearly £2.4 billion, with the average local authority spending more than £5 million on them.

TPA chief executive Matthew Elliott accused councils of "ignoring economic reality" by handing out more pay rises than taxpayers can afford.

But the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, insisted that "a suitable wage" was needed to recruit the right people to handle multi-billion pound town hall budgets.

Today's report named Birmingham as the council with the most employees paid £50,000 or more last year (1,014), followed by Hampshire (916), Essex (898), Hertfordshire (811) and Leeds (561).

The report found that the number of staff on £50,000-plus packages in the average local authority has jumped from seven in 1996/97 to 81 in 2007/08 - an eleven-fold increase, compared to an increase of 3.2 times in the economy as a whole.

Some 15,388 middle and senior managers were being paid £60,000 or more last year - many of them outstripping a backbench MP's salary of £63,291.

Mr Elliott said: "In the private sector thousands of people are losing their jobs, yet councils are better staffed and better paid than ever.

"Councils are ignoring economic reality and simply recruiting more managers and handing out more pay rises than taxpayers can afford. Council tax bills are cripplingly high, and town halls must change their ways to bring the bill down."

But LGA deputy chief executive John Ransford said: "The people who earn these salaries are responsible for multi-million pound budgets in highly complex organisations, and to attract the best and brightest people to deliver value for money, you have to pay a suitable wage.

"The figures are like comparing apples and pears as they are out of date and misleading. If the report compared similar jobs in the private sector then the TaxPayers' Alliance would see that councils are providing people with very good value for money.

"Councils are responsible for ensuring that more than £100 billion of taxpayers' money is spent wisely and provides the services local people want and need. When senior salaries in the private sector are compared to senior salaries in the public sector, the taxpayer gets very good value for money."

Mr Ransford said that the credit crunch and economic recession were eating into local authority incomes at the same time as increasing demand for the services they provide.

"This month alone, councils across the country have been forced to shed 2,500 jobs and one in seven councils have had to shed jobs over the last few months," he said.