Opposition councillors say that Northamptonshire County Council needs to think about the message it is sending to its workers when they are denied a pay rise while senior officers are earning high salaries.
It was revealed this morning that 19 employees were earning more than £100,000 at the county council in 2017/18, the highest in the East Midlands region and the joint 10th highest in the country.
The figures, compiled by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, come from the same financial year in which the council ended with a £41.5million deficit, paid off its chief executive £142,000 and became the first authority in two decades to issue a section 114 notice banning all non-essential spending.
But Labour’s finance spokesman, Councillor Mick Scrimshaw, doesn’t feel like lessons have been learned in the resulting months.
It was revealed this week that the new children’s director Sally Hodges was earning £1,100 a day, working out at an annual salary of £258,000.
Councillor Scrimshaw said: “We had 19 employees earning more than £2million between them in 2017/18. I’m sorry, but there are some big figures in that and I would question whether the public sector should be paying those kinds of figures.
“I understand we have to get good quality people but I don’t think people in the public sector should be earning that kind of money. If they want that kind of salary then go and work in banks or finance. Their motivation surely should be providing public services.
“I’m very worried that NCC, which is financially having to tighten its belt, is paying these kinds of sums. Since then we have the new chief executive and new director of children’s services, who is earning an absolute fortune.
“Then we’re seeing £18,000 pension contributions to some individuals when some people don’t even earn that as a salary.
“The lessons are not being learned. We are supposed to be tightening our belt, and even following the lifting of the section 114 notice recently, every little bit of expenditure has to be signed off. But we are still paying these massive salaries, and that can’t be right.
“It’s something that’s happening across all councils, so that when NCC has to look for a new officer or executive, they have to fight against those kinds of salaries elsewhere and their argument is that it’s the going rate for the best.
“There’s a systematic culture issue across local government. This is public money and it’s at a time when children’s social workers can’t be recruited because of the pay and conditions.
“What sort of message does it send from the people at the top of the organisation to the workers that they rely on below them. It’s the wrong message. The whole system seems to be crazy.”
Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Chris Stanbra agreed that the county had to think about the message it was sending to staff, who were recently told that the authority would give them a rise but only if they could ‘afford it’.
He said: “It’s certainly unsustainable for councils to pay out these sums, and you question why they need so many people to earn these kinds of salaries. The council has to compete in the marketplace for these kind of people, but I think that the number of people earning it is more than is needed in lots of cases. Northamptonshire should be looking at its senior management structure.
“There’s a big challenge for the head of children’s services to show that she is worth the money she is being paid, and I wish her luck in that.
“But it sends completely the wrong message. It says that it’s one rule for the staff, and another for the senior officers. It’s completely wrong, it’s been badly handled by the management and political leadership, and they need to think about that message they are sending.”
The figures from 2017/18 showed that the then chief executive Dr Paul Blantern, who left half way through the financial year in October 2017, pocketed more than £277,000 from the authority - making him the 19th highest paid council employee in the country at the time.
It was also revealed that he received £142,000 as a farewell payment, which included a £95,000 settlement that was revealed just two months after his departure through a Freedom of Information request.
But Dr Blantern’s legacy has been criticised, with his ‘Next Generation’ model of outsourcing services being attributed as a contributory factor for the county council sliding towards financial oblivion.
Councillor Scrimshaw added: “The £95,000 settlement was the secret handshake that we weren’t supposed to know about, but was uncovered through an FoI.
“If we go back to when Dr Blantern was in that post, I can clearly remember the then leader Jim Harker saying how innovative Northamptonshire was being and that they were leading the way with the Next Generation model.
“They couldn’t understand why other councils weren’t doing it, and I think we’ve found out why. Clearly he should not have been one of the top paid people in the country, because his answer to the financial predicament was a wrong answer.”
The county council has said that staff salaries ‘reflect responsibilities associated with the posts’, many of which require ‘highly-qualified, professional staff’.