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News and Comment January 2012

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28 January (Part 3) - Localism. They are having a laugh

Eric Pickles and Bexley council leader Teresa O'NeillEric Pickles the Local Government minister is always coming out with headline grabbing ideas but in reality they are little more than sound bites - without the bite. He always provides a get out clause for corrupt councils to exploit. His ‘over £500 expenditure’ rules are so loose that it is barely worth looking at Bexley’s list. His suggestion that residents should be able to take cameras to council meetings has been widely adopted but councils with a history of secrecy and criminality can ignore it with impunity. His latest wheeze for identifying earners over £58,200 and keeping the ratio between highest and lowest earners in check is full of get out clauses too. Bexley council has been busy seeing how to exploit them.

Their report starts out by saying all the right things. “Councillors are required to take a greater role in determining pay, ensuring that decisions are taken by those who are directly accountable to local people” which is a bit of a farce given that it was a council officer who threw out (almost certainly under instruction from the council leader) the 2,219 signature ‘salaries’ petition before councillors had a chance to consider it. It waffles on in similar vein; “Communities [should] have access to the information they need to determine whether remuneration, particularly senior remuneration, is appropriate and commensurate with responsibility.” Please stop giggling, it is not funny. On their own admission, the salary figures on Bexley’s website are wrong. Did the council not say the petition examples (taken from the website) were inaccurate? Maybe they want to have their cake and eat it. Maybe they were lying.

Given Eric Pickles’ wish to see transparency on salaries I had expected to see a simple comparison of what the Chief Executive earns and what the least rewarded employee earns but that is not what Bexley is going to give us. Their report is entirely free of pound signs. It tells us that Bexley has “a single salary scale consisting of 27 grades” which seems to be an awful lot and it tells us that the ratio between top and bottom salaries is 10:1. And if you think that looks implausibly low you would be right. It is not the ratio between Will Tuckley’s two hundred odd thousand and his chauffeur’s pay cheque, it is the ratio of the average senior officer pay (everyone down to Deputy Director level) against the average (technically the median) of everyone else. To simply compare top with bottom would be far too simple, far too easy to understand, far too revealing of their fat-cattery. This way it’s impossible to visualise what the true situation is - and Pickles has sanctioned it!

Having neatly wriggled away from publishing anything useful about their lowest and highest earners how is Bexley council going to avoid providing details for those earning more than £58,200 as Eric says they should? Easy. It’s not compulsory. Officers can opt out of all that. Eric Pickles. Fat Minister for Fat Cats.


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