Our social care system is about to collapse, so a right-wing group has decided to ritually humiliate the people who run it

The total reward pots for those jobs in the last year ranged between £380,000 and £625,570. Some might argue that given their level of responsibility, three or more times ‘the Prime Minister’s salary’ (a pointless comparison) is well deserved

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The Independent Online

The time has come around again for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, that slightly unhinged right-wing pressure group that resents the Government’s tax income being spent on anything at all that might benefit its citizens – offering affordable student loans, paying our GPs, offering child benefit and giving public sector staff the right to take sick leave appear among its latest gripes – to publish its Town Hall Rich List.

For the uninitiated (and who can blame you?) this is a list of the top earners in local government, usually comprising the chief executives and senior policy wonks inside England’s biggest, and often most troubled, councils. Every year it is published to the sound of tuts and boos from the residents of Middle England; it’s almost as if was designed specifically to appeal to the prejudices and lazy assumptions of that prolific sign-off “Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells”. And every year it deserves a decent unpicking.

Given its ambitions, however, the TPA couldn’t have picked a worse day to let its latest bit of data-crunching out in the open. Its abject horror at the admittedly significant sums earned by top public servants sounds a discordant note against the news that they are responsible for solving the biggest social crisis our country currently faces – the potential collapse of the social care system.

According to the charity Skills for Care, 338,520 people left their jobs as adult social care workers in 2015-16, which equates to 928 people every single day of the year. There were 1.3 million people employed in the sector during that period, so that’s a significant proportion of the workforce on their way out. Worse, 60 per cent of those departing said, when asked, that they were leaving the care profession altogether.

Most care workers earn the minimum wage. Although that is increasing to £9 an hour by 2020, a move which may help retain those struggling to meet the cost of living, it could also bankrupt care firms who are hit by rising staffing costs and Government cuts to the care budget filtered through councils.

The numbers behind the NHS crisis

The warning has been sounded. “My biggest fear is that we will soon run out of capacity to provide care to those who cannot fund themselves,” said Mike Padgham, chair of the UK Homecare Association, this week. Think about the implications of that: for those who cannot afford to fund it privately, but who desperately need it, there will be no care available. In Britain, in 2017.

That moment of collapse is edging ever closer, as the population ages and the demands we place on care continue to increase.

So, who is responsible for preventing that occurring? And are they being given the support they need to do it? That will be senior council leaders, and to the latter the answer must be an emphatic “no”. Instead, they are seeing their lives and salaries dragged through a trial by media at which a jury of self-selecting reluctant taxpayers will rule them worthy or – more likely – unworthy.

The TPA’s “audit” of council staff found that 539 earned at least £150,000 in pay and benefits in 2015-16, a rise of 11 per cent on the year before, and more than 2,000 individuals earned six figure sums.

These include the chief executive, the finance director and the executive director of people’s services at Sunderland council – all jobs responsible for bringing an end to the care crisis fast. Also picked out were the chief executive of Kingston upon Thames, the strategic director at Birmingham, the director of community at Fareham and the finance director of North Lanarkshire.

No wonder these roles have big pay packets. They are dealing with a range of the most complex social issues today, and they are sticking around to do it. They should be rewarded for doing so, especially at a time of retraction and retrenchment, during which a lot of skilled people have jumped ship into the exponentially more lucrative private sector consulting market.

The total reward pots for those jobs in the last year ranged between £380,000 and £625,570. Some might argue that given their level of responsibility, three or more times “the Prime Minister’s salary” (a pointless comparison, given the sheer magnitude of freebies that come with that job, from housing to transport to food) is well deserved.

If not – if you think that six figures might cut it for the handful of people in charge of keeping us safe, housed and cared for and our communities functioning, but six times starts to push credulity – then worry not, because these figures are massaged. These top 10 “fat cats” are not on bloated salaries, but are benefiting from a system that gives enormous handouts to get rid of people quickly.

Dave Smith, the chief executive of Sunderland, for example, “resigned” after seven years at the top of the local authority and in the wake of a poor Ofsted report for its children’s services function. Instead of being expected to turn the situation around, he departed rapidly, therefore qualifying for a major pay-off and outstanding pension contributions.

The figures at the top of these charts are soaring because, as well as cutting budgets drastically, the Government has also encouraged ruthlessness in town halls, a corporate impatience for “results” which sees public servants paid vast sums to disappear quietly when it suits Whitehall. 

The results of all that are a lack of consistency and the continuing collapse of our social care system. It doesn’t seem like the most sensible time to drive our best minds out of public service by a process of ritual public humiliation – but clearly the TPA disagrees.