18 February 2012

Three cheers for Uncle Eric ( The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP )

The famous five Barnet bloggers are, despite their different political views, fans of Uncle Eric since he nailed his colours to the openness and transparency mast.

Photo credit : Martin Argles of www.Guardian.co.uk
The dubious tax treatment of local council employees had been the subject of countless blog posts. Then David Hencke turned up the Ed Lester, Student Loans Company situation and the hare was running. David Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury extended the scope of a review for top civil servants and now Eric Pickles has stepped in and ordered a review at local authorities. Barnet Council executive suite must be an interesting place today. 

Eric Pickles: 
New local pay guidance to help tackle tax avoidance
Published 16 February 2012

Government rules to open up Town Hall pay practices and senior salaries to public scrutiny now include measures to root out any inappropriate tax avoidance arrangements, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander has set out the Government's commitment to tackling all forms of tax avoidance. As local government is also paid from the public purse Mr Pickles has issued new statutory guidance that addresses the matter.

The Localism Act requires councils to publish and be accountable for their pay policies, helping to ensure that local remuneration arrangements - particularly for chief officers - provide value for money for the whole of the public sector.

The Government's associated guidance on Openness and Accountability in Local Pay published today now states that authorities should review the terms of senior appointments, particularly where arrangements could be perceived as seeking to minimise tax payments.

It specifically states that councils should vote on salary packages for employees greater than £100,000 a year. Councils should also publicly justify any big bonuses, above inflation pay rises, or the recruitment of staff already in receipt of public sector retirement or severance money.

Elected councillors have until the end of next month to approve pay policy statements that should include explicit local policies on all the above practices and whether or not they intend to permit any of these sorts of arrangements.

At a time when the public are worried about the cost of living and all parts of the public sector should be making savings, this action will give taxpayers the clearest evidence possible that value for money has been considered in pay policies.

Eric Pickles said:

"Opening up the pay deals of top Town Hall jobs to public scrutiny will mean taxpayers know with certainty their interests are being protected.

"Local people have a right to know whether any Town Halls allow tax arrangements that could short change the public purse; whether bumper bonuses are being awarded to poorly performing workers; or whether pay is being hiked up for execs who've boomeranged from post to post.

"The door to council pay practices is being unlocked by the Localism Act - local authorities must now publicly endorse their pay practices by next month. Doing this will reassure residents that local pay is fair, fit for purpose and fully 'democracy proofed'."

Mr Pickles has previously called for council chief executives earning over £200,000 to take a ten per cent pay cut and those earning £150,000 - more than the Prime Minister - to take a five per cent pay cut. Independent research has found that between January and June 2011 newly appointed chief executives were earning on average 19 per cent less than their predecessors.

Here is the guidance:

Openness and accountability in local pay: Guidance under section 40 of the Localism Act

There are some interesting points in the guidance. 

Para 14 might allow for the ridiculous and excessive pay levels to be curbed.

Para 22 could mean that Nick Walkley does not get paid for being the returning officer and the chief Executive at the same time even though he can only properly do one job at a time.

Para 24 Value for Money. Some senior officers are certainly not worth what they get paid. Salaries should max out at £100,000.

Para 28 seeking to minimise tax payments. Plenty of evidence of that in Barnet.

Well done Uncle Eric, commonsense has prevailed.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

1 comment:

  1. For the record, I am not a fan of 'Uncle Eric', for example, the stance he took over Dale Farm. But even Tory ministers can't help doing the right thing sometimes!

    This guidance (as the earlier DCLG guidance urging councils to allow filming, blogging, etc, of council meetings, which Barnet had to accede to - though they did it with characteristic ill grace) must have an effect in Barnet eventually. Extract from the material you posted above:

    "The Government's associated guidance on Openness and Accountability in Local Pay published today now states that authorities should review the terms of senior appointments, particularly where arrangements could be perceived as seeking to minimise tax payments."

    Things really could not be stated more clearly than that. And, after a review, if the likes of Barnet Deputy Chief Exec Andrew Travers pay more tax, that is money going back into the public coffers that can be spent on our services.

    And managers shouldn't be leading privileged lives different from those of the people they manage.


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