Latest Public Sector News

15.12.14

Council senior staff pay-offs ‘unacceptable’ – government

The government says it is “unacceptable” when councils pay off senior staff instead of investigating misconduct and under-performance.

In response to the ‘Local government Chief Officers’ remuneration’ report,  published in September by the Commons Communities & Local Government Committee, the government also says the traditional role of a council chief executive is “unnecessary” and “can weaken the ability of a council’s political leadership to set direction through the executive role of elected members”.

As previously reported by PSE, the original report from the Communities and Local Government Committee expressed concerns that many councils do not have robust appraisal systems for senior staff, and so lack an established link between senior officer pay and performance. 

The report stated: “The Committee concluded that many councils do not have robust approaches to identify and tackle under-performance by senior staff which means some find it easier to pay them off inappropriately rather than address the underlying failure.”

It adds: “This does not deliver best value for taxpayers.”

The DCLG has agreed with this assessment, saying that the pay-offs are “unacceptable”. To help combat this trend the government is working on plans to “remove the costly and bureaucratic requirement for a designated independent person to investigate allegations of misconduct by senior officers”.

The DCLG is considering proposals to protect chief officers against unfair or improper dismissal, while also protecting taxpayers from funding costly bills.

The government requires councils to publish information on severance payments in their annual statements of accounts. Whitehall is also pushing for any decision on a severance package over £100,000 to be considered by the full council.

The government response adds: “Authorities should not wait to be challenged by the public, the media or be prompted by a series of freedom of information requests before providing an explanation as to why individuals have left and how much money they have received as a pay-off.”

The traditional role of a chief executive is also thought to be unnecessary by the government. Instead the DCLG would like to see chief executives shared between councils, as this could “provide stronger strategic direction over larger areas and provide significant savings”.

West Somerset and Taunton Deane councils have transformed into a shared senior management structure across both authorities and, according to the government, this has significantly reduced management overheads for both councils.

But Graeme McDonald, director of Solace, the Society of Locla Authority Chief Executives and senior staff, told PSE: “We have seen the consequences of not having strong, independent senior staff in a number of local authorities, most recently Tower Hamlets. The vast majority of local authorities recognise the need for a chief executive. The select committee also recognises that need.

“It’s disappointing that our Secretary of State insists on fighting a battle that is already lost.”

The Local Government Association defended councils, pointing out that they are the most open and transparent organisations in the public sector, with senior staff pay published on council websites and appointments made by elected officials. 

An LGA spokesman said: "Councils recognise the need to manage the performance of all their employees, including chief executives, effectively and fairly and will use appropriate processes for doing so."

Solace’s full response to the original inquiry on office pay is here.

(Image: c. Clive Gee and PA)

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Cllr. Wayne Strutton SBC   21/12/2014 at 13:28

I find it totally unacceptable about how senior officers, Assistant Directors and Directors appear to move from authority to authority with these high 5 and 6 figure pay offs and pension contributions loss of office payments without being individually identified to the public due to their employment contracts even when it could quite easily be said they had left under a cloud or whilst being identified that their departments were failing by outside monitoring bodies such as OFSTED and only being subject to a 31 day clawback clause reportedly. Then go one to either start working almost immediately for another authority as a contractor for a year or two only to move on and be awarded these high pay offs again and again! It is my belief and that of a majority of the public that these officers should be named so as to be able to effectively challenge these payments. This is made all the more unacceptable given that even when working as a contractor these individuals effectively become employees after a year and get the full benefits of an employee! I recently suggested that the public should be informed of all payments in excess of £40k or a combination of additional payments of £70k should be automatically published so as to be able to hold the making of these payments accountable to the Taxpayers and that the Clawback Clawes be over a much longer period or even limited to amount that can be paid into their pensions over a period of 10 years to avoid any sort of abuse of the system.

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