'We're worth it': Lancashire County Council defends £100,000+ salaries amid questions over council staff pay
Lancashire County Council has insisted that it is providing good value for money after new figures revealed how many staff in top jobs receive more than £100,000 per year.
The authority says its pay structure ensures that it has "the best people" in key positions.
However, the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) – which revealed the salaries in its annual Town Hall Rich List report – says residents should be the judge of that based on their own local experiences.
The organisation acknowledges that many of those in local authority management will have “more than earned their keep” during the Covid crisis, but sets the pay packets of senior staff in the context of what it describes as “crushing” council tax rises.
It also commissioned research in which six in ten out of 2,000 people polled said they would favour a freeze or cut in pay for those at the top of the nation’s councils.
Across the UK, the number of local authority employees whose total remuneration package – including pension contributions and other benefits – tops £100,000 increased by 135 between 2018/19 and 2019/20.
However, at County Hall, the picture was static over the same period. Eleven Lancashire County Council employees received more than £100,000 in 2019/20, no change from 12 months earlier.
The total pay and benefits bill for those receiving over that amount was £1.6m, up from £1.5m a year earlier.
Leading the way was the authority's chief executive and director of resources Angie Ridgwell, whose basic salary increased by almost £10,000 to stand at £216,000 in that year. According to the TPA, she received no other benefits or pension payments.
In addition to her responsibilities at the county council, Ms. Ridgwell also chaired the Lancashire Resilience Forum, the multi-agency organisation leading the response to the pandemic in the county, from June 2020 until just last week.
Amongst the other senior staff in the top pay bracket were education and children’s services executive director Edwina Grant, whose £168,000 total remuneration package includes a “market supplement” of £26,000.
Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, the authority’s director of public health – who has become a familiar face and voice in the county since the coronavirus struck – received £144,000, £17,500 of which was in pension contributions. He has been at the forefront of the Covid response, dealing with outbreak management, local testing arrangements and advising politicians during discussions about the tiered system of restrictions introduced by the government last autumn.
The deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, Keith Iddon, said that the authority had been fortunate to have the people that it did at the top of the organisation when it was faced with the multi-pronged challenges posed by the pandemic.
“These people have gone above and beyond what could have been expected of them and have done a marvellous job in keeping Lancashire as safe as possible and looked after the residents.
“Because we have turned the council’s finances around, we had funds to buy PPE for the care sector and money to lend to businesses to keep them secure. This is what people of that calibre can achieve,” County Cllr Iddon said.
He also contrasted the pay on offer for the top jobs at local authorities with that available in the private sector.
“If this was a business turning over nearly £1bn a year, the top management would be on five times those salaries – it’s as simple as that.
“I am a businessman myself and you always get what you pay for – and if you have the best people at the top, it makes it easy for everybody else,” said County Cllr Iddon, adding that a restructure of the top-tier of officers back in 2017 was already yielding results long before the pandemic.
The county council’s overall pay and grading structure is set by elected members and the multiple between the average full-time equivalent salary at the authority and that of the chief executive currently stands at 1:11.
A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: “Senior officers’ pay is intended to reflect their responsibilities, skills, and experience and ensure the best people possible are in these key positions. In recent years the senior management structure of the county council has also been streamlined.
“This approach and the hard work of officers has helped to put the council in a good position to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, ensuring services have continued to be delivered to residents despite the pandemic.”
John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance – which claims to “speak for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste [and] increasing taxation”, said:
“Taxpayers facing huge and hated council tax rises want to know they are getting value for money from their local authority leadership.
“At the onset of the coronavirus crisis, thousands of town hall officials were taking home huge sums. While councils were plunged into tackling the pandemic, many staff will have more than earned their keep, but households have nevertheless struggled with enormous and unpopular council tax rises.
“These figures shine a light on the town hall bosses who’ve got it right, and will enable residents to hold those who aren’t delivering value for money to account.”
This year, Lancashire County Council increased its share of council tax bills by 3.99 percent, one percent less than permitted by the government for an upper-tier authority.