Top salaries ‘effectively out of control’ at West Sussex County Council

Residents will be paid to take part in the focus groups
Residents will be paid to take part in the focus groups
  • Number of officers paid £100,000 or more increased from 16 to 21
  • Redundancies and departures cost taxpayers more than £6million over last two years
  • Six staff members received a combined £58,068 in expense allowances in 2018/19

More senior officers are being paid more than £100,000 a year at West Sussex County Council, new figures have revealed.

Back in 2017/18 there were 16 staff earning that amount every year, but in 2018/19 this figure has risen to 21.

Meanwhile the number of staff earning £50,000 a year or more, excluding schools, has gone up from 262 to 311 over the same period.

At the very top of the organisation six staff members received a combined £58,068 in expense allowances, up from £44,253 the previous year.

According to the council’s own financial statement, the executive director for communities and public protection received £18,606 in expense allowances in 2018/19, the director of communities was given £12,113, the director of highways and transport received £11,750 and the executive director for children, adults, families, health and education was paid £10,800.

Meanwhile there were 135 compulsory redundancies and 179 other departures agreed over 2017/18 and 2018/19 costing the council more than £6million in total.

The county council was asked to comment on the figures at a time when it is having to find millions of pound of budget savings.

It said the increase in top paid staff was primarily attributable to existing staff subject to incremental progression within the pay scale and the impact of the cost of living pay award, bringing current staff into the scope of the disclosure.

A council spokesman also described how in order to meet the challenges it faces as an organisation it sets out to recruit the very best staff to deliver efficient and effective services for West Sussex residents.

Since 2010 it has had to save almost £240million at a time when its Government funding has been cut by £155million.

Given increasing demand on social care and a reduction in Government funding and uncertainty around future funding the council said it could no longer balance its budget from efficiency alone.

The spokesman added: “We are committed to delivering value for money to our residents as demonstrated by our efficiency savings, and all our senior salaries are benchmarked against similar sized organisations.”

On turnover of senior staff the council said movement at the top of large organisations is inevitable as staff take on new opportunities.

Meanwhile its expenses policies set out what can and cannot be claimed ‘to ensure we deliver value for money for residents’, with payments through its voluntary severance scheme ‘made in line with statutory obligations and contractual terms and conditions’.

Caroline Fife, from UNISON, said: “It is disappointing to see executive salaries effectively out of control at the very top of the council. The number of county council executives earning over £100,000 has gone up from 16 to 21, an increase of a third on last year.

“Similarly expenses packages for the highest paid at County Hall have increased by a third on last year. These are expenses packages which aren’t made available to frontline staff.

“Our members will be upset to see these increases at the top whilst the services they work in supporting vulnerable people in our communities are struggling and under threat of cuts or stopping altogether in some instances.

“It is vital that the council brings this area of executive expenditure under control, just as they are scrutinising others areas of unarguably much more important spending.

“The budget papers published also tell a continued story of significant staff turnover at the highest levels. This instability is very damaging.”

James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “This report makes shocking reading, with top pay rocketing up at a time when more and more services to the public have been and are continuing to be cut. Both fire and rescue services and children’s services have been found inadequate and a commissioner sent by Government to run the latter.

“It beggars belief that those at the top get whacking increases, whilst those in the front line have been stuck for years with either zero or maximum two per cent increases in much lower pay.

Some of the inadequate ratings are also worsened by senior staff churn or turnover, with four directors of adult services in eight months, several changes of top fire and rescue top management, and a similar turnover in some cabinet posts.

“Perhaps the most devastating is the eye-watering £6million in redundancy and early retirement payments, which indicates a cavalier attitude to the use of hard-pressed council taxpayers’ cash by this increasingly failing Conservative administration. Truly our residents are paying more and more for less, and it has to stop.”

Michael Jones, leader of the Labour group, added: “The figures uncovered from these reports rather make a mockery of how careful with the finances the Tory political leadership claim they are being, when the council is being forced by their Government to find many millions of cuts from its budget.”

He also described how the papers ‘make clear there is still unacceptable churn at the top of the organisation’, while the scale of payments made to council officers leaving is an ‘unhealthy sign of a Tory council that is badly off course’.

Cllr Jones added: “In addition to the spending on relocation expenses and away days already reported, I am also concerned about the increased expenses and allowances to top officers also revealed by the papers.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the Tories will squeeze every expense at low levels at the county council, such as recently making employees attending internal training events paying for their own tea and coffee from the canteen, but well paid executives have clearly not lost out.

“I intend to speak to the chief executive personally on these issues and challenge what has been revealed this week. It’s particularly outrageous when the Tory Cabinet is contemplating cutting fundamental services, like our libraries and concessionary fares for disabled people.”