One of the warnings about the Lib Dems taking control of the new unitary authority was that they might be a tad high-spending. This week’s decision at county, meeting at the Oake manor Golf Club, which saw the Libs voting through a salary of £200,000 for a new Chief exec, did little to assuage that concern. Lib Dem leaders explained their decision by saying ‘a star centre forward was needed’ . SCC Lib Dem leader cllr Good King ‘Billy’ Revans (Ethandune Central) added “It’s imperative to get this recruitment process done and ‘get unitary done’ too.” But the opposition Labour group was having none of it. Labour Leader Councillor Leigh Redman (Bridgwater North & Central) , said that the ‘size of salaries paid to some senior council staff is wrong’ , spoke of the ‘valuable work of staff right across the authority’ and also criticised the ‘lack of a Climate Emergency brief’ within the job description.
Cllr Redman said “I wanted to state that my group would have hoped to include, in the key terms of employment, for the new CEO to be required to work to deliver Somerset’s Climate action strategy. This council has stressed their commitment to address the climate emergency, it might have been good to include this as one of the things our new CEO can be expected to sign up too. I have received, outside of this meeting, confirmation from the leader of council that this is one of the main aims for the new CEO.”
Midst of a Cost of Living Crisis
Cllr Redman continued “It is so hard for me, finding a way to discuss this proposal, a salary so high particularly as we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis. I acknowledge there is a need for the new CEO to pilot paid staff and new Council into Unitary. The revised Amendment proposal recommends that the Council approves a salary range of up to £200k for post of Chief Executive. I think the size of salaries paid to some senior council staff is wrong, the increase proposed for our CEO opens the door for similar sized increases for the senior leaders in the new authority. So potentially a rod for our own backs. It is worth reflecting on the high salaries paid at a time when council tax is rising and services are being slashed causing the most vulnerable people in our communities to be suffer. There will be many in the private sector who earn much more, however, the majority of public sector workers will never get anywhere near those salaries.”
“All workers should be paid fairly”
“Our staff who worked amazingly well during the pandemic, will look at this proposed rise and be as astonished as I am. If the pandemic showed anything, it was that council workers provide invaluable services to keep communities safe. Time and again they went above and beyond to look after people in Somerset. It is worth making the point for new and old members that, two thirds of local government workers earn less than £24,000 a year and are just coming out of an unprecedented period of frozen pay (in real terms a year-on-year pay cut) and into a cost-of-living crisis. Somerset County Council is one of the lowest paying local government employers in the country. Council employees – including street cleaners, administration staff, teaching assistants and care workers – deserve better pay and working conditions while providing vital community services. There should not be such a gap between those at the top and our lowest earners. We are in the midst of pay talks to increase our paid staff, a pay negotiation that highlights the gap, I think deserves a fair hearing. The culture of increasing pay for those at the top while the wages of other staff are allowed to stagnate is unfair and divisive. I believe all workers should be paid fairly for the valuable contributions they make to providing public services.” said Cllr Redman “Chair the report sets out a good argument why we should be paying the best rate for the right person, for our post, it does not mean we should not be looking to balance the playing field for the remainder of our staff, I would hope that coming out of this, we won’t be hearing members dissent for our staff pay increase and that we can support and give fair consideration to our staffs pay”
County Councillor for Bridgwater South Brian Smedley added “This salary is the equivalent of 2 Boris Johnsons….now imagine that…..”
The Prime Ministerial salary is £80,000 and an MP salary is £84,000.
Revans adopts new persona
Cllr Revans tried to explain himself further “It also represents an enormous opportunity for the right candidate. To paraphrase Liam Neeson from a popular film, we will need someone with a very particular set of skills, acquired over a very long career. We are moving from five chief executives to one, and the annual saving from that would be around £500,000.”
Cllr Smedley added “If Cllr Revans has moved from being King Alfred the Cake to Liam Neeson playing hit man Bryan Mills, he should use the full quote…’ If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.’ “
Cllr Smedley added “I am a bit more concerned now of what exactly the Lib Dems methodology is going to be in control of county..”