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
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?