Council budgets feel the squeeze - but their top executives still take home healthy pay packets, including one who earns more than Theresa May

South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland
South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland
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THE troubleshooter called in to sort out the “Taxigate” mess at South Ribble Council is picking up a bigger salary than Prime Minister Theresa May, it has been revealed.

Jean Hunter, drafted in as interim chief executive, is being paid £40,000 more than the man she has replaced - even though she has fewer responsibilities.

The embattled council, ripped apart this year by the taxi licensing scandal, is paying Mrs Hunter a whopping £176,000 for one year’s work, even though it is facing a £3m budget shortfall over the next two years.

Today, as the pay-out was slammed as “a complete waste of public funds,” we look at the eye-watering salaries of Lancashire councils’ chief officers whose pay packets topped £8.5m last year.

Many councils are struggling to cope with the most drastic financial cuts to public services in living memory.

Yet in Lancashire, where libraries, children’s centres and rural buses have all been drastically affected, it would seem the top officers scratching around looking for savings are themselves immune from the economies.

In 2012/13 there were 90 town hall staff across the county earning more than £50,000 each.

Three years on, despite austerity, that figure is still 90.

And the total wage bill for the top bracket has actually gone up to a whopping £8.5m.

Now, while South Ribble has agreed to pay its interim chief executive a whopping £176,000 for just one year’s work clearing up the mess from “Taxigate,” there are claims it is the taxpayers who are being taken for a ride.

All-but one of the chief executives in Lancashire’s 12 district councils took home six-figure sums including add-ons and pension contributions in 2015/16.

Add to that the woman who is in charge at County Hall, and the total wage bill for 13 chief executives came to almost £1.7m for the year.

County council boss Jo Turton, who oversees a budget of £713m, led the way with a total remuneration package of £196,720 - made up of a basic £170,000 salary, plus pension, allowances and additional pay as Returning Officer.

Hyndburn District Council paid their top officer a total of £151,000, Ribble Valley shelled out £137,260 and Preston coughed up £136,000.

But it is at troubled South Ribble where serious questions are being asked about the size of the new chief executive’s pay packet.

Jean Hunter has been hailed as the perfect person to repair the council’s battered reputation following “Taxigate.”

Mrs Hunter, who ran the authority for 10 years up to 2010, has returned as interim chief executive with a remuneration package of £176,000 - a full £40,000 larger than the man she replaced.

Her annual salary is £34,000 more than Prime Minister Theresa May and even eclipses that of President Putin of Russia and President Hollande of France.

“It is a complete waste of public money,” stormed the father of one of the victims of the taxi licensing scandal which has torn South Ribble Council apart.

But the authority, which faces a £3m black hole in its £13.9m annual budget over the next two years, is adamant the whopping wage packet is the going rate for the job.

Mike Nuttall, who resigned in July, received £135,218 last year, but he also did the job of chief financial officer and head of paid services.

His successor is not doing either of those - the posts have yet to be filled - but she is still being paid an extra £40,000.

“There’s no doubt that it has been a turbulent time at the council of late,” said a council spokesperson.

“And Jean is the right person to restore the authority’s reputation as one of the

best district councils in the country.

“As part of the recruitment process, we researched the salary packages offered to interim chief executives and the figure we negotiated was right at the bottom of the scale.”

Mrs Hunter left the chief executive’s job at South Cambridgeshire Distict Council (salary band £108,182 to £123,636) in July,

One member of the opposition Labour group on South Ribble Council, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s staggering. How can a job which is less than that done by the previous chief executive be worth around £40,000 more?

“The Prime Minister doesn’t get paid that much.”

The size of the South Ribble salary was also attacked by the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Chief executive John O’Connell said: “No-one begrudges paying chief executives well for the tough jobs that they do and if a council is in dire straits it is going to need competent staff to turn it around.

“But if someone is being paid substantially higher than the market rate it is down to those in charge to explain to local taxpayers how they came to that decision.

“Council budgets are tight up and down the country, so it’s important that local authority bosses keep costs low and cut out as much waste as possible so that limited resources can be redirected towards essential frontline services.”

A South Ribble spokesman said: “We advertised for an interim chief executive as we needed someone who was extremely experienced who could hit the ground running and deliver the very best services for our residents.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better candidate than Jean Hunter - who also benefits from having already worked at the authority for a decade and has a fantastic track record for getting the job done.

“As Jean isn’t an officer of the council, we don’t have to consider the extra costs of a pension and national insurance which is usually paid on top of a chief executive’s salary and can amount to tens of thousands of pounds more.

“She also won’t benefit from the other advantages of being a permanent employee, including holiday and sick pay.

“It’s important to stress that this is only a short-term measure as the post has been advertised for 12 months.”

In 2012/13 the total bill for 90 senior officers across Lancashire came to almost £8.2m. In 2015/16 the amount had risen to more than £8.5m.

Five authorities - Lancashire County Council, Chorley, Wyre, Ribble Valley and Hyndburn - increased the number of £50,000-plus salaries over the three-year period while still making drastic cuts in services.

Only Preston, South Ribble, Burnley and Pendle managed to reduce the number of big salaries, with the city council making the biggest cut by dropping from 16 to nine.

SOUTH RIBBLE

Interim chief executive Jean Hunter will pick up a salary of £176,000 for her one year in office.

Her predecessor Mike Nuttall was paid a total of £135,218 in 2015/16 before resigning in July. He also had the roles of chief financial officer and head of paid services - both jobs have yet to be filled.

South Ribble, which is facing a £3m ‘black hole’ in its budget over the next two years, has five more senior staff being paid more than £50,000 - three directors and two heads of service.

PRESTON

Chief executive Lorraine Norris was paid £136,000 in the last financial year for running the city council.

But the authority worked hard to reduce its staff costs with a reshuffle at the top, cutting the number of senior officers with £50,000-plus salaries from 16 to nine between 2012/13 and 2015/16.

CHORLEY

Three years ago Chorley Council employed seven officers whose pay packets were in the £50,000-plus category.

But three of them had six-figure remuneration packages.

Now only chief executive Gary Hall gets a salary of more than £100,000, with the authority making cutbacks to senior staff pay as part of its economy drive.

Yet Chorley now has eight officers in the £50,000-plus category compared with seven three years ago.

LANCASTER

New chief executive Susan Parsonage can expect a salary package of £123,000 a year following her appointment in March.

The authority, like Chorley, has reduced the pay scale of its top executive as a result of the pressure on local government finances.

In total Lancaster has six officers earning more than £50,000 - the same number as it had three years ago.

RIBBLE VALLEY

In spite of local government cuts, Ribble Valley has doubled the number of its officers earning above the £50,000 mark since 2012/13 from three to six.

Chief executive Marshal Scott’s salary package, at £137,260 with add-ons, is more than £20,000 more than the rate for the job just three years ago.

In 2012/13 the authority paid its three top earners a total of almost £300,000.

Now the three highest paid get more than £330,000 between them.

WYRE

Chief executive Garry Payne’s salary package totals £115,841, a rise of just over £2,000 on 2012/13.

But while the authority paid only three senior officers more than £50,000 three years ago, it now has four on that scale.

The total for its top quartet is just over £350,000, compared with £296,000 in 2012/13.

LANCASHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL

Not surprisingly the biggest authority in the county - with its annual budget of £713m - has the best-paid officers.

Chief executive Jo Turton’s total remuneration package of £196,720 last year - made up of a basic £170,000 salary, plus pension contributions, allowances and additional pay as Returning Officer - was the highest of any council officer in Lancashire.

But a further seven LCC officers were in the six-figure bracket, taking the wage bill for the top officers at County Hall to almost £1.3m.

Add to that a £140,000 payment to a consultancy company for the services of a director of financial services and the wage bill for the big earners came to £1.43m - around £150,000 more than three years ago.