Attack on pay sparks fears of social work brain drain

A government crackdown on pay for senior council officers will lead to a brain drain of top managers from social care, according to experts. The warning came as communities secretary Eric Pickles (pictured) declared war on "mega salaries" paid by councils to managers.

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A government crackdown on pay for senior council officers will lead to a brain drain of top managers from social care, according to experts.

The warning came as communities secretary Eric Pickles declared war on “mega salaries” paid by councils to managers and called for them to become the first casualties of the cuts, which will see grants to councils fall by 28% over the next four years.

The latest developments in the crackdown include:

• Councillors gaining a veto on salaries of more than £100,000.

• All council officers earning more than £58,200 to be named by authorities.

• Liverpool Council coming under attack from ministers for supposedly insensitively advertising a £90,000 assistant director of adult services post at a time jobs were being cut. It coincided with the launch of a drive by the Department for Communities against “non jobs”.

The latest announcements prompted a furious reaction from the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, which said Pickles’ attacks on its members amounted to bullying, and would drive the best managers out of the public sector.

Pickles said that councils should be focusing more resources on protecting frontline services, not rewarding executives.

“The changes we are introducing will mean that local government jobs will now have to be ‘democracy proofed’ before mega salaries are paid out. I think the democratically elected members of any council should make sure they have their say on pay and that £100,000 is the place to start that,” he said.

The remarks about Liverpool angered Joe Anderson, leader of the Labour-controlled authority, who said: “Are they trying to claim that senior staff dealing with adult social care do not have important jobs? We have just been considering a budget in which we have tried to protect the most vulnerable – and we need exceptional people to help us deliver these vital services.”

Local Government Employers also defended councils’ right to set substantial salaries for senior managers.

Sarah Messenger, service director at LGE, said: “Those working at the highest level in social services perform a hugely important job and have to make decisions which affect the well-being and happiness of thousands of people. Councils need to be given the flexibility to attract and keep these specialists whose expertise plays a vital role in the care and protection of society’s most vulnerable individuals.”

James Rook, managing director of Sanctuary Personnel, which specialises in social care recruitment, said the government’s policy risked exacerbating a gulf between private and public salaries.

“Increasing this further will result in more council executives moving to the private sector, meaning poorer quality management running our councils,” he said. “The consequences of this across all council services, not just within social care, are horrendous.”

Plans for publishing council officers’ salaries of more than £58,200 are included in the draft Code of Recommended Practice for Local Government data transparency, a consultation for which closes on 14 March. The proposal for salaries of more than £100,000 to be approved by full council is contained in the Localism Bill, currently going through parliament.

Additional reporting by Kirsty McGregor

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