Ministers have been accused of double standards after approving bonuses to thousands of senior civil servants in their own departments, despite announcing new rules designed to crack down on the generous pay deals for council executives.
John Healey, the Local Government minister, said that he wanted to cut the pay and bonuses given to local authority bosses by forcing them to publish details of their pay deals. The Government also declared victory after bonuses to executives at the failed bank RBS were reduced.
But Richard Bacon, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said yesterday that the Government was in "no position to preach" to councils over pay and bonuses as senior civil servants in its own departments will be sharing a payout of £26m this year.
Sir Gus O'Donnell, the head of the Civil Service, revealed last week that departmental permanent secretaries were waiving their bonuses in an attempt to send "a signal to the public that we understand their concerns in these difficult times". But the agreement to forgo annual bonuses only covers around a dozen mandarins, leaving some 4,000 senior civil servants in line for a payout in September. Last year, senior civil servants received a total of £24.7m in bonuses – an average of £6,175 each.
Mr Bacon, Conservative member for South Norfolk, said: "The Government is manifestly not capable of running their own big departments. The NAO recently released a report on the ability of departments to deliver. Two-thirds of Government departments were found to be less than well placed to deliver their targets. If that is the case, why should most civil servants receive bonuses if most departments are not performing properly?"
Last night, David Clark, the head of the council chief executive group Solace, said that the Government's pledge to crack down on local authority pay was a "political gimmick".
A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said the bonus deals for senior civil servants were transparent and related to performance. But Mr Bacon said: "There is an institutional bias in setting the targets in such a way that they will be met."
Tidy salaries: Council chiefs
*Joe Duckworth £240,000
Britain's best-paid local government official came from a £150,000 post as chief executive of Isle of Wight Council, where his swearing agitated staff until he agreed to tone it down. He tried to convert the island into an eco-Isle. He will play a central role in delivering the 2012 Olympic Games.
*Derek Myers £220,000 – £230,000
Kensington and Chelsea Council
Once reported to live in a £900,000 house in Chiswick, west London. He is chairman of the council chief executives' society and a non-executive director at the Department of Health.
*Andrea Hill £218,592
Suffolk County Council
Earns £70,000 more than her predecessor and is responsible for a £1bn budget. Recruited from Bedfordshire County Council, where she raised the council's star rating from two to three.
*Kim Ryley £213,162
Hull was the worst local authority in Britain when Mr Ryley inherited it in 2004. Has won plaudits for improvement in council services.
*Caroline Tapster £203,427
Hertfordshire County Council
Began working at the council in 1995. Its star rating has declined since she became chief executive in 2003. The Audit Commission says the council's performance management is inconsistent.
*George Garlick £200,000
The best paid council chief executive in the North-east. Veredus, a recruitment firm, was paid to manage his appointment. He moved from Stockton-on-Tees Council to take up the position as head of Durham's new unitary authority late last year.
*John Foster £200,000
Last year his council denied it paid Arsenal football club £8,100 to use a room for a staff event.