Sunday 9 February 2014

Monkeys and Peanuts - Updated


Thanks to a reader for sending in the following clip from the Western Mail (February 2011) as a reminder:

We have to pay top-rate salaries to get quality managers, claims council leader

SOME communities would suffer without highly-paid chief executives at the helm of local authorities, council leaders claimed yesterday. The comments came after figures showed the heads of local authorities in Wales and England are paid an average of almost £148,000 – about £5,500 more than the Prime Minister. Four councils in Wales – Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan – pay more than the UK average for the job to their most senior officials. But at a meeting of Carmarthenshire council’s executive board yesterday, councillors praised the efforts of high-salaried officers, who they credit with keeping the authority and the local economy financially buoyant. Council leader Meryl Gravell said: “I am getting pretty fed up of hearing about how we pay our chief executives too much. They are worth every penny that we pay them because if we did not...Carmarthenshire would not be where it is today (too true - Ed.!)... If we do not pay decent salaries we would not get the quality of managers that we have. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys.” 


Thanks to our Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas , the Welsh Government last year had to give in to demands to take steps to rein in the salaries of senior local government officers.

The steps being taken are very hesitant ones, and involve the creation of an independent remuneration panel, something which the Welsh Government strongly resisted (BBC report here).

One of the arguments usually trotted out to defend bumper salaries for local government bigwigs is that there is fierce competition between councils to get the best senior officers. With the prospect of at least 11 Welsh council chief executives having to find a new job after the merging of councils in the next couple of years, this is now a buyers' market, and whatever happens it is unlikely that anyone will be competing to secure the services of Mr Mark James CBE.

Meryl Gravell, whose record breaking 13 year grip on the leadership of Carmarthenshire County Council came to an end in 2012, liked to say that if you paid peanuts, you would get monkeys when she defended the the council's inflated salaries for senior officers.

Making comparisons with other local authorities, not to mention other public bodies, in Wales has always been difficult because it involves trawling through thousands of pages of accounts and financial statements, not all of which are entirely transparent.

In preparation for the new era of monitoring the pay of top earners in the public sector, the Wales Audit Office has produced a very interesting briefing paper on the subject, which you can find here.

The three highest paid chief executives in Wales in 2012-13 were:

1.  Pembrokeshire             £194,661
2.  Cardiff                         £183,726
3.  Carmarthenshire           £181,645

Trailing in fourth place was, ahem, Caerphilly at £144,598.

Even the auditors had to admit that they were not sure how much of the Carmarthenshire figures was returning officer fees. There was also the added complication for Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire of the unlawful pension pay "supplements".

A further complication is the source of returning officer fees paid to council chief executives. Most receive fees from different pots for different elections (local, Welsh Assembly, Westminster, police commissioner and European Parliament). Carmarthenshire only includes fees (without disclosing what they are) for local elections.

In addition, the chief executive of Carmarthenshire has other sources of income not disclosed in these figures. They include his pay as a non-executive director of the Welsh Assembly. If you think Mr James was hard done by in relation to his peers, think again.

To put these figures into context, the WAO report provides figures for the number of staff employed by the different local authorities and their gross spend on services. Once again Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire stand out from the pack like sore thumbs.

Chief Exec Pay
Gross spend on services (£000)

By comparison, Swansea and Rhondda Cynon Taf each employed 11,000-12,000 people and spent £720m-£740m on services each in 2012-13.

It is not just chief executive pay where Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire stand out. The report also shows the median figures for senior executive pay by authority. Here are the top three:

1. Carmarthenshire                £118,410
2. Caerphilly                          £116,221
3. Pembrokeshire                  £114,135

Cardiff comes in at just £83,991.

Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Caerphilly also have something else in common. Now what could that be?


Anonymous said...

And just think how much more difficult it must be for Chief Execs who have to implement Council's policies rather than their own.

Anonymous said...

They say they have to pay high salaries to attract and retain talent. Who says those at the top are talented? Their abilities in my experience is pretty limited.

I recall in the foot and mouth fiasco in 2000/2001, they had to call in the military to sort out the mess. If Cheif Executies of local authorites were paid for their achievements, most of them would be penniless.

Anonymous said...

It rather begs the question as to whether local authority senior officers should possess the (hugely expensive) attributes of verve, leadership, imagination and creativity or whether they should just bloody well do what their democratically elected politicians tell them to do (shudders all round at the very thought).

Anonymous said...

Im going to try this for a second time as my earlier post didnt make the cut!
Hugely expensive officers have got to their postions as they have often spent many years udertaking professional qualifications to equip them with the skills, knowledge and aptitude to advise on matters of statutory and council policy.
If officers " bloody well did what their democratically elected politicans told them to do" they would be failing in their statutory duties to advise on issues of professional standards , excellence and competence, statutory responsibliites etc. You really cant have it both ways!

Anonymous said...

Er ... isn't it "advice on issues of professional standards , excellence and competence, statutory responsibliites etc" that have got them into this mess in the first place?

Anonymous said...

Yes you can: they are paid to advise but councillors can choose whether to take that advice. The problem with the "many years" of getting (often at taxpayer expense) more qualifications is that they become institutionalised and arrogant, assuming that they ALWAYS know best. If that were the case, the Council would not be in this mess.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 20:49 - You should have given up the ghost the first time around! Poppycock!

Anonymous said...

Look where Carmarthenshire is today,in a mess.

Anonymous said...

Do you realise how pathetic your argument sounds? "Hugely expensive officers have got to their postions as they have often spent many years udertaking professional qualifications to equip them with the skills, knowledge and aptitude to advise ..." Compare the extortionate salaries of an officer with those in the medical profession e.g. Consultant in General & Respiratory Medicine, Consultant Anaesthestist, Consultant Histopathologists, Consultant Radiologist etc. These people don't only advise but they save lives for between £72,927 and £94,679 per annum.

Anonymous said...

"If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys" said M Gravelle.
Well, we didn't pay peanuts, but the rest hasn't necessarily followed.....

Anonymous said...

This is the result of the chief executive's iron grip on everyone and everything.Doesn't anyone remember the "Meeting closed" episode? Remember Delyth Jenkins's experience?It is by no means difficult to see where the problem lies.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Yeh I have thought about the way the Chief Exec. behaved during that meeting with me and the M.P. In Oct 2009, several times since, and tried to search for a reason why a Chief Exec. would react in such a way. After all, I had done nothing wrong for him to yell at me like he did.

Did he feel that his job was under threat as the Public Services Ombudsman For Wales had just made available to the Council, two of the worst reports ever to be handed to a Council? At that point in time, I believe the only person the Chief Executive was thinking about was himself! Not me, and certainly not the vulnerable, defenceless service user who had been abused.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this bullying behaviour by someone who should be showing an example to others? Do you support this kind of behaviour Councillors? Kev?

Anonymous said...

But what if one monkey gets LOTS more peanuts than the othet monkeys AND wants even more meaning that the othet monkeys get even less?

Anonymous said...

Very clearly put Delyth.It is certainly about personality.If an investigation does take place I hope some whistle blowers come forward to explain why everyone is so fearful.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is so fearful because they get bullied and end up losing their jobs. This really is just scraping the surface!