Council strikes – the greediest people in Kingston? Part 2

Bruce McDonald

£222k? Because he's worth it!

Those striking to retain a fair deal on the pensions they’ve worked for should not be confused with those who have displayed excess.

As The Guardian (not exactly the public sector’s harshest critic) reports “a senior local government officer on £100,000 a year will pick up £52,900 a year plus a lump sum of £123,750. Similar middle-class professionals in the private sector can only dream of such payouts, which would cost upwards of £1m to fund.”

Whilst strikers have every right to fight for their pensions (which average £5,600), there can be little argument that pensions for senior public officials have become an obscenity. However, they are a mere symptom rather than the cause. The pension arrangements in local government were clearly never designed with the expectation that any public employee would be drawing such obscene wages (in some cases dwarfing the salary paid to the Prime Minister). Unfortunately an unhealthy culture has been allowed to grow in what used to be considered public service.

Let’s call it the “L’Oreal culture” . Why? Because they think they’re “worth it”.

When New Labour looked at local government it declared that councils needed to learn from the private sector. Stuffy town halls could do with a bit of enterprise and business know-how to create a more modern, efficient form of government. But how could this be achieved? New leadership was, of course, seen as the answer.

Modern leadership. Business leadership. Expensive leadership.

If the giants of industry and the city were to turn their expertise towards shaking up local councils, they would have to be attracted with salary packages that could tempt them away from the private sector. A council would raise its chief executive salary to attract “a new kind of chief executive” and all the surrounding councils would use this as an excuse to raise their senior directors pay as they had fallen “below the local average” (which of course would continually rise with every pay bump).

“If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” became the justification for a pay spiral ever upwards for chief executives and their directors. No one ever dared to ask, if you have previously been offering “peanuts” and have by this logic therefore only attracted “monkeys” to your senior positions, what is to be gained by now paying these same long serving simians in caviar?

Let’s look at Kingston. In this time of economic downturn, public sector spending cuts and redundancies, how have Kingston’s senior management rewarded themselves?

In April, the Surrey Comet reported that Bruce MacDonald, chief executive of the council, had become Kingston’s highest paid public servant with a a total remuneration package of £222,000 a year – £179,000 in salary and £43,000 in employer’s pension contribution.

In February the council’s Senior Staff committee gave the personnel manager, or “Executive Head of Organisational Development and Strategic Business” in its native council jargon, an £18,000 (‘max’) pay rise. That’s right, at a time of cuts, pay freezes and job losses, the leadership of Kingston council thought that giving a massive pay rise to the officer responsible for handing out redundancy notices to dozens of council staff should be a priority. 

Then, most recently the council’s most senior managers were asked to consider taking a voluntary pay cut of 10% by councillors. A good opportunity to show real leadership by saving costs, protecting services to residents and possibly even some of their lower paid colleagues’ jobs? Not a chance. Cost cutting clearly only applies to the lower orders.

How can they possibly justify this?

Easy. “Because they’re worth it”.


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