Council in crisis awards large payrises to top staff

07:45 Friday 21st November 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Yesterday there was a big meeting of Peterborough City Council’s Employment Committee. They were discussing the wages of senior officers. Some of them earn as much as £140,000 a year, and some top council staff received pay increases of up to 30% earlier this year. They were taking on new roles. The decision to award these increases has now been revisited. Nick Sandford is the Leader of Peterborough’s Liberal Democrats. Nick, what happened at the meeting last night?
NICK SANDFORD: Well just to put the context, earlier this year back in February there was a private meeting of the Employment Committee, at which these very large pay rises of up to 33% were pushed through. When this became public at Full Council there was complete outrage, and it was decided to refer it back to the Employment Committee. I proposed at the Employment Committee not that we try and unpick all these increases, but that we ask each of the senior officers earning over £100,000 to take a small reduction in their salary.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So when we say small, how big?
NICK SANDFORD: I wasn’t really concerned. I quoted a figure of around about 15%, but it could be 10%, it could be only 5%. But that was rejected by the Committee.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. Why are you so worried about these wages? Do you just think it’s too much money?
NICK SANDFORD: We’ve currently got a situation where senior officers, some of them earn up to £170,000. And as I said earlier, some of them had increases of 20% and 30%. One actually had the increase backdated for a three year period, so got £30,000 on top of that. That’s at the same time that the Council is cutting its adult social care budget by 16%. People who are receiving council tax benefit are going to have that reduced by about 40%. So I think all that I was saying was these senior officers on these really high salaries, we should ask them to share in just a small amount of the pain that people on the smallest incomes are having to feel.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Let’s bring in councillor Wayne Fitzgerald who is Peterborough City Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care. Councillor Fitzgerald, why did you reject this idea?

WAYNE FITZGERALD: Morning Dotty. I think it wasn’t me. let’s put it in context. The Employment Committee at the City Council is made up of a cross-party group. It’s not just the administration or Conservatives.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But did you vote for or against this suggestion?
WAYNE FITZGERALD: The whole group, apart from councillor Sandford who seems to be on his own in this, unanimously yesterday after a review of the whole decision making process, has decided to go back to Council and said yes, everything was proper, everything was in order. The Committee had taken the right decisions and the right course of action. Councillor Sandford’s suggestion is just quite frankly ridiculous.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Why is it ridiculous though?
DOTTY MCLEOD: Why is it ridiculous to pay people less who earn £170,000 a year when some people in Peterborough are really struggling just to put food on the table?
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Because Dotty they have a very responsible position. I personally think you know people are in public sector .. I forget to talk about public sector .. earning that kind of money. We can debate the rights and wrongs of that, but the reality is that is the market place. That is where we are. In order to keep and attract the staff that we have we have to compete in that market place. If we want to talk about abhorrent salaries, the Director of Radio at the BBC earns £350,000 a year in the public sector. So you know we talk about public sector salaries. The Director of the BBC earns £450,000, when the average person in Peterbroough earns £22,6000.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I completely accept your point there Wayne, but you’re saying it’s a market. The top bods at the BBC would say the same. Doesn’t someone need to say, you alluded to it yourself, that these numbers aren’t right. Someone is going to have to be the first to set the example and pay people less, pay people what they deserve, not what the market dictates.
WAYNE FITZGERALD: Correct. Well that’s what we are doing.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What do you mean? You’re not cutting their pay.
WAYNE FITZGERALD: You might say how have we determined that. Well we have an independent policy .. sorry an independent methodology in order to determine people’s pay, ie what they’re worth. Now it would be unfair to single out six individuals within the Council. Councillor Sandford has gone from 5% to 10% to 15%, and who does this apply to? We could perhaps ask all of the Council to take a pay reduction. It would be worth noting, when he quotes £170,000, he’s talking about the Chief Executive salary. She has not had a pay rise for eight years, and in fact would refuse one. So she is a highly talented executive of the Council, in charge of many many millions of pounds of budget and people across the city. She gets paid for what she does, and is highly valued by everybody within the Council from all parties. Even councillor Sandford would admit that the Chief Executive at the City Council does an excellent job. She is paid the right salary for the jobs she does.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Nick Sandford, just very quickly, would you admit that?
NICK SANDFORD: Well I’m not going to talk about individuals. It certainly isn’t true to say that I’m the only person concerned about this. There was complete outrage at the Full Council meeting from all parties when this was brought up. All that I’m saying is that it’s ridiculous in the current situation that the Council is in to be giving pay awards of 30%. And what we should be doing is just asking, not demanding, actually asking these really senior officers to share some of the pain that the rest of Peterborough people are feeling.
DOTTY MCLEOD: We’ll have to leave it there. That was councillor Nick Sandford, who’s the Leader of the Peterborough Liberal Democrats. You also heard from councillor Wayne Fitzgerald who is the Cabinet Member for Adult Social care, and was on the Employment Committee that met last night.