Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Time for action on Cornwall Council top salaries

Cornwall Council has just published details of the pay levels for top officers. The report shows that there were 30 officers earning more than £100,000 a year and that 560 officers earning £50,000 or more in the last financial year. To see the report, click here and download the report under agenda item 14. The details of officers pay begin on page 81.

The report also shows that Peter Lewis, the former Director of Corporate Support, received a pay off of £78,750 when he left the council in March. This despite the fact that councillors were told that he left voluntarily.

Kevin Lavery issued a statement when Mr Lewis left which said:

“Over recent months, and particularly during discussions about the Council’s Business Plan, budget and improvement agenda, Corporate Support Director Peter Lewis has expressed a desire to sharpen the focus and increase the pace of change beyond what I consider the Council is ready for at this time. Consequently Peter has decided to leave Cornwall Council in order to contribute to an organisation with which he can feel more aligned.”

That statement raises two issues. First, it should be the elected members of the Cabinet which sets the strategic direction of the Council and not the Chief Executive or the Director of Corporate Support.

Second, and more importantly in this case, the statement makes it clear that Mr Lewis left of his own volition. If that is the case, why did he receive a pay off of more than 6 months salary - almost £80,000. In my experience, the only reason for a pay off is if an employee is forced out of his job. Mr Lavery's statement and this report seem at odds with each other and I have written to him asking for an explanation to be provided to councillors.

I also believe that it is right that the highest paid officers should reflect on their own salaries at a time when huge council service cuts are about to be announced. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the entire government recently announced that they would be cutting their own pay by 5%. I think it is right that Cornwall Council's high paid officers should be doing the same. If they won't do so voluntarily, then I think that the Conservative administration should look to persuade them to do so.

Whilst the figures include schools staff and the Council is keen to stress that a large proportion of the increase in high earners is down to teachers who received an increment raise, I don't believe that this fully explains the huge jump in the number of high earners compared with the previous year. Neither does the unitary process which has seen seven councils merged into one. Whilst it is right to say that some of the jobs have grown in responsibility, it is also the case that many of the roles are the same as under the previous County Council.

I understand that every employee is entitled to seek to get the biggest salary they can, but it seems that there are an increasing number of very large salaries at a time when the taxpayers of Cornwall simply cannot afford them. I believe that it is imperative that Cornwall Council's Conservative led administration gets a grip on these salaries and insists on more transparency when it comes to pay offs for departing officers.

You can find the thoughts of my colleague Jeremy Rowe on the subject here.

I've been interviewed by Radio Cornwall on this subject this morning and I'll post the link here when I find it.

UPDATE - I've slightly altered the original post to make it clear that the figures relate to the last financial year, rather than the current number of employees.

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