Council chiefs to hit back over 'fat cat' slurs

Council chief executives are targeting local media with a public relations offensive after a spate of stories about so-called “fat cat” salaries.

The campaign has been sparked by Government moves from April forcing local authorities to make public the salaries of all their top officers – those paid over £50,000 – which could provide rich copy for local papers.

The campaign comes after a series of stories in the national and local media about large pay rises awarded to chief executives and senior managers.

An exclusive report in The MJ, formerly Municipal Journal, revealed that, with the backing of new research into public/private senior executive pay, the director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), David Clark, has written to his members advising them of “the new challenge – the publication of top officers’ salaries”.

In his note, he adds: “Rather than ducking for cover and hoping it will go away, SOLACE will be supporting its members across this tricky new ground.”

Council chief executives are particularly upset about the way the media has handled recent pay rises, citing recent coverage in The Sunday Times and the News of the World as well as local papers. They argue that pay has risen because the increasing demands of the job make it more difficult to recruit candidates prepared to tolerate the long hours and pressures.

The new audit regulations mean that councils must list all senior staff paid more than £50,000 in their statement of accounts in bands of £10,000. An earlier proposal to actually name the officers has been dropped. The salaries list must be published by 30 September. Clark believes that the publication of the figures “may offer us all the chance to explain the role of chief executives as well as defending the figures if necessary”.

Michael Burton, editor of The MJ, said: “Council chief executive salaries have been driven up entirely by market forces. There are not enough talented, workaholic, rhinoceros-skinned change agents to go round. The impact of a strong chief executive on a £500m-budget council, particularly one in desperate need of being shaken up, is immense.”

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