07:39 Wednesday 8th October 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: Now if I offered to increase your salary by nearly 50%, what would you think? I’m guessing you might think it’s a pretty good offer, too good to be true maybe. Well what if you’re the new Director of Public Health at Peterborough City Council? At a meeting this evening, the authority will ask permission to appoint a new Director, but they won’t be given the old salary of £80,000 that the previous Director was paid. Oh no! They will be paid just under £118,000. That’s a rise of nearly £38,000 a year. The City Council says the increase is necessary to compete with other health sectors and other local authorities. Let’s speak to the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Peterborough, Nick Sandford. What do you make of this new salary that’s being proposed Nick?
NICK SANDFORD: I think it’s really not what I will make of it, it’s what members of the public will make of it, people out there who are earning quite small amounts of money. And despite the income concessions that the current Government has brought in, an awful lot of people maybe getting a pay rise of only 1%, and some people are having their pay frozen. So seeing a senior officer who’s getting almost £120,000, I think people will be quite surprised by that.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What does the role involve? What is a Director of Public Health when they’re at home?
NICK SANDFORD: Well what happened was about just over eighteen months ago the public health responsibilities that were previously run by the Primary Care Trust were handed over to local authorities. And this is something we very much supported, because it brings these functions under more democratic control. So it’s things like control of epidemics if they happen. But it’s also more basic things like running teenage pregnancy campaigns, organising measures to combat alcohol abuse, get people to give up smoking, that sort of thing.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So it’s fair to say that if it’s a job that’s done well, it could actually save the city a lot of money in the future. Maybe it’s worth paying top level to make sure you get a top person.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes. It’s a really important role for Peterborough City Council. That is true. But round about twelve months ago I was on a committee called the Employment Committee, and they did a senior management restructure. And they basically devised increased salary scales. And there was a .. you may remember, a lot of it was done in secret. And when it came out, it was revealed that some of the senior officers were getting 10% or 20% increases. But if you look at these pay scales that the Council has implemented, this particular post should be having a salary of round about £80,000. I think it’s £81,500. And so what they’re saying is that because of exceptional circumstances, they have to pay £118,000. But what we’re seeing is that round about a third to a half of these senior officer posts blow their own pay scales out of the water, and they end up paying significantly more. What the Local Government Association says is that you are allowed to pay these what they call “market supplements” but only in exceptional circumstances.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And you’re concerned that the exceptional circumstances here maybe don’t qualify for that. The thing is Nick, maybe this is a case where if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.
NICK SANDFORD: That’s true, but if you’ve got a pay scale, and if you spend a lot of time, they got external consultants in to recommend what the pay scale should be, and this post, I think the pay scale is, if you go for the middle portion of it, it’s round about £81,000. Even if you go to the top end of the pay scale, it should only be about £90.000. So to go as far as £120, 000, I think most people will see that as slightly unreasonable.
DOTTY MCLEOD: so it’s not really just about this post that you’re worried. It’s the precedent it might set for other posts and those salaries.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes. I have to say one positive thing, and I do like to be positive with the Council wherever I can, that this is the first time that we’ve had a chance at Full Council to determine what one of these senior officers is paid. And that’s because of a requirement that the Coalition Government has brought in, that all salaries over £100,000 have to be endorsed by a meeting of Full Council. But I think in the current economic climate, regardless of all the other factors that are operating, the Council does need to have some cognisance of what sort of public impression this is going to cause.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And we’ll just ask you Nick as well about the other big story that we’re talking about today, the fact that two out of the three energy parks planned for farmland sites around Peterborough are going to be scrapped. What do you make of that?
NICK SANDFORD: This is something that myself and the Liberal Democrat group have been broadly supportive of. Having solar energy, a clean green form of energy, is something that we need to have. But it does seem that again the Council has made a complete shambles of what ought to have been a very positive project. They spent over two and a half years talking about this. During that period the amount of subsidy that the Government pays has been dropping and dropping. They spent over £3 million on the project, and then we get to this point where they haven’t completely scrapped it, but round about over two thirds of the project has been entirely scrapped. I think it really is a complete shambles.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Of course you and the rest of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party voted Marco Cereste back in as Leader after the elections earlier this year, when you didn’t need to. Maybe you’re partly responsible for this dragging on quite as long as it has done. (see comment below)
NICK SANDFORD: I think that was a slightly different issue. What we were faced with there was the Conservatives, although they didn’t have a majority, they were only one seat short of overall control. So we did look at it, and it wasn’t possible at that point to put together an alternative administration. And what Peterborough needs in this situation, they need a stable administration. But I have to say they also need an administration that is financially competent, and I have to say this particular episode does call into question the financial competence of the local authority.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Councillor Nick Sandford, thank you for joining me this morning. The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Peterborough. Well on the subject of the Director of Public Health’s salary, councillor Marco Cereste, the Leader of the Council said, “ The Director of Public Health is a really important appointment for the city. The post carries significant responsibility for health protection of all our citizens, including communicable disease outbreaks, infection control, immunisation and screening. There was a rigorous recruitment process. I’m confident we’ve hired a really excellent candidate in a very difficult and competitive market. In addition, the Council has save over a £1 million by cutting the number of senior managers on the payroll.”