Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

Deputy prime minister John Prescott was in typical fighting form
when he told the Local Government Association annual conference
earlier this month that some senior managers in councils were paid
too much. Exceptional pay may be justified in a few exceptional
cases, he said, adding that it must not become the norm.

He asked: “How can it be right for a local authority chief
executive to be paid morethan the prime minister?” Some of those in
his audience drew the inference that the government may act to curb
senior managers’ pay, though others doubted whether it could be
done without giving the private sector an unfair advantage in the
race to recruitthe best managers.

LGA chairperson Sir Jeremy Beecham said he did not “necessarily
agree” that chief executives should not be paid more than the prime
minister, but admitted that councils had to be aware of
the”sensitivities” around pay. “You could argue that the prime
minister is underpaid,” Beecham said.

“The question is: ‘What is the right level of pay for the
responsibilities?'” Julia Ross, executive director for health and
social care, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

“My main concern is why we don’t pay the same attention to
front-line staff, who often receive inadequate rates for the
important contribution they make. Given some of the difficulties
that inevitably go hand in hand with particular posts, it would
seem sensible to exercise some local discretion rather than a
one-size-fits-all approach. I’m also at a loss to understand why
people are reluctant to openly talk about pay, especially in the
public sector. I’m paid £118,000 for what is in effect two
senior positions of director of social services and chief executive
of a primary care trust.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“I do not believe salaries should be capped in either the private
or public sector, but I do believe that high salaries should be
dependent on results. If local authorities are going to pay
six-figure salaries to senior officers then we should expect to see
significant and tangible results of this investment. There is a
real problem in all sectors with poor performance being rewarded
with pay-offs, while good performance, particularly at middle
management level, goes unrewarded and unacknowledged.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The job of director of social services runs chief executive posts
a close second for stress, complexity and volume. Just as we’re
incentivising social workers and other highly valued and relatively
scarce staff in social care, why would we be looking to devalue
director posts when their leadership of large and complex
departments is vitally important to delivering the government’s
modernisation agenda?”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Is it any surprise that the infiltration of public services by
market forces leads to a new hybrid; the profiteering public
servant? Yet the kind of skills needed from chief executives are
well regarded in other parts of the economy and thus recruitment in
both the voluntary and public sectors needs to respond to market
forces. But isn’t there a set of public service values that should
influence public service pay and reduce the inequalities between
the workforce and the boss?”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield Institute
for Health, University of Leeds

“Comparisons with the prime minister’s salary are a complete red
herring. There are two real questions. First, is the reward right
for the work and responsibility involved? Presumably if good talent
came cheaper, it would be recruited. Second, are the rewards for
managers commensurate with those for non-managerial positions. A
more important issue than top managers’ pay is how to retain
skilled practitioners in front-line roles by offering a better
reward structure.”

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