Spotlight on public sector wage bill

Donna Hall, Wigan Council Chief Executive
Donna Hall, Wigan Council Chief Executive

FIGURES claiming Wigan Council has 15 employees earning more than £100,000 have been hotly disputed by the town hall.

Details of top earners at every council across the country have been released as part of an investigation led by the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) and a national newspaper.

At Wigan Council we are committed to paying staff a fair wage, based on their role and responsibilities - and in line with the national average in both the public and private sector. The role of chief executive is not to be underestimate

Lord Smith

As the council braces itself for further cuts, bringing their savings target during the austerity period to around £160m, the investigation poses the question of whether residents are getting value for money for their tax contributions.

The TPA figures show that chief executive Donna Hall and deputy Paul McKevitt were Wigan borough’s top earners with £198,230 and £161,836 respectively.

According to the town hall’s own financial report for the last year, Ms Hall received a salary of £165,000, a reduction from the previous year’s £168,582 and less than previous incumbent Joyce Redfearn (£187,785 per annum). Likewise, Mr McKevitt received a salary of £140,000, according to council figures.

Although their overall cost to the taxpayer is increased because they received £34k and £21.5k in pension contributions, respectively. Ms Hall also received £24,462 for her role as returning officer in the borough’s elections during 2014/15, bringing her total remuneration up to £223,485, the town hall figures show.

In terms of the 15 staff receiving more than £100k, several of these officers are no longer employed by the council with former directors Anne Goldsmith, Steve Normington and Terry Dunn understood to have been included in the TPA analysis.

Also thought to have been included in the list, according to the council’s own financial report, are three unnamed officers who received total remuneration of £100k plus which may have included redundancy payments.

Plus three headteachers at borough schools or colleges.

Ms Hall remains on a salary below several of her counterparts across Greater Manchester, the figures reveal, and council leader Lord Smith has long maintained the chief executive provides value for money.

When the issue last raised its head, he told chamber colleagues that Ms Hall received a higher salary than David Cameron because: “She’s doing a better job than the Prime Minister.”

He added: “At Wigan Council we are committed to paying staff a fair wage, based on their role and responsibilities - and in line with the national average in both the public and private sector. The role of chief executive is not to be underestimated.

“Tasked with ensuring the successful running of the council’s services, making tough decisions, while looking after our members of staff and responsible to over 300,000 residents, is no mean feat.”

The high salaries from the country’s top officers, with 3,483 receiving more than £100k remuneration according to the TPA, have not been well received in some quarters.

In response to the findings and accusations of unacceptable expense claims in some areas of the country, chancellor George Osborne said: “I intend to issue new guidance sending a clear signal to public sector employers on pay and terms – setting out what I, and I suspect most taxpayers, see as unacceptable.

“What this shows is the scope that remains for savings at a time when budgets need to be trimmed.

“We’re determined to do all we can to rein in excess where we find it.”

Jonathan Isaby of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “How have we got to this situation? Taxpayers will be aghast at the sheer scale of the pay and perks of those at the top of the public sector, and baffled as to how it has been allowed to balloon.

Who has been keeping check on all of this? For all of the politicians, regulators and remuneration panels, it seems that big pay deals and bonuses continue to be handed out almost irrespective of performance.”

Sonia Halliwell, assistant director for human resources at Wigan Council, said: “The figures quoted are incorrect as there are only nine posts which attract salaries of higher than £100,000.

“Wigan Council is the second largest council in Greater Manchester and takes responsibility for hundreds of services which run every day for 320,000 residents.

“Overall our level of pay is in the bottom quarter of Greater Manchester councils despite our size compared to other authorities and we are one of the largest authorities in the country.

“Part of our determination to provide value for money we continuously review our management structure and over recent years there has been a reduction in the numbers of directors and senior managers in the organisation from 78 to 22 resulting in excess of £1m worth of savings.”