The councils hardest-hit by austerity have protected the often mammoth pay packets of their chief executives despite swingeing budget cuts, new analysis reveals.
While some councils stripped back on pay and perks for town hall chiefs, others actually increased their remuneration – even as 80,000 council staff were made redundant in the last five years.
Westminster Council was forced to make the biggest reduction in spending in England between 2010 and 2017. It cut 45% from its budget, equal to £191million, data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) showed.
Yet its former chief executive, Charlie Parker, received a 6% rise in pay between 2015 and 2018, according to figures published by the council.
Parker took home at least £21,500 a month before tax, around £259,102 a year, by the time he left the job in January 2018.
South Tyneside Council in the north-east saw the second biggest fall in spending, with a 44% reduction, equal to £91m, according to the IFS.
But its most senior officer, Martin Swales, received a £6,555 bump in pay and perks between 2014 and 2017 totalling £183,567 a year, figures showed.
At Camden Council in north London, newly-retired boss Mike Cooke used an exit interview with his local paper in February to blast those who compared his pay to that of the prime minister.
“It’s absolutely irrelevant and you can quote me on that,” he said.
Cooke received £69,000 more than Theresa May’s £155,000 salary during his last full year in the job, figures showed, representing a rise of 12% on 2014.
Meanwhile, Camden has grappled with a 39% decrease in spending since 2010 – making cuts equivalent to £159m.
In Oldham, Greater Manchester, council boss Dr Carolyn Wilkins received £200,000 in 2017, a 9% increase since 2014, despite the authority having to find £116m in savings.
An Oldham Council spokesperson questioned the wisdom of highlighting rising executive pay during austerity.
“We find it strange that people would suggest a reduction in local government spending should necessitate a reduction in salaries,” they told HuffPost UK, adding that austerity “has created more, not less work for people in local government”.
“It has put an incredible amount of pressure on everyone from cleaners to chief execs to ‘do more with less’,” they added.
Of the 10 local authorities included in the research, three increased the number of staff paid more than £100,000 a year between 2014 and 2017.
Hackney Council in London, where spending reduced by 35% since 2010, saw the number of £100k+ earners soar from eight to 27 between 2014 and 2017, figures showed. Barnsley and North Tyneside also saw the number of staff earning more than £100k rise.
Despite the increases at some authorities, the number of those earning £100k+ at Westminster was slashed from 26 to 11 between 2014 and 2017. Gateshead, Knowsley, and Wigan also reduced the number of top earners.
And the chief executives of four councils in the research, Gateshead, Barnsley, Hackney and Wigan, saw their pay either reduced or maintained between 2014 and 2017.
South Tyneside Council said that since 2010 it had “significantly reduced its management costs”.
“As a result, our structure is leaner, more efficient and offers greater value for money to our residents,” it said.
Westminster Council said: ”The former chief executive’s package only increased by the same as other local government employees.”
A Camden spokesperson said it was “important for the council and local residents to have a highly effective leadership team in place in these senior roles”.
They added that Mike Cooke, its previous chief executive, “was a champion of modest executive pay and was appointed on a salary that was £73,000 less than his predecessor” and that its approach to remuneration was unchanged.
Oldham Council said that its chief, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, had taken additional work in a dual role as chair of the local clinical commissioning group.
Hackney Council said: “Since 2010, we have reduced the number of senior management posts in the council, saving £10m – or over 50% – in management and support costs since then.”
HOW WE GATHERED THE DATA
We used IFS data to determine which councils were hardest-hit by austerity and selected those which had comparable pay figures available.
Pay figures were obtained through published council accounts and all except Westminster’s included pension contributions, other allowances or so-called “golden goodbye” payments for departing staff.