MANCHESTER City Council this week published details of its budget proposals for the next three years.
The gross additional cost of council executive pay increases over the next three years will total £456,712
Despite news in October that, due to a funding shortfall enforced upon Town Hall by Westminster, the council faced a budget gap of between £40m and £75m between now and 2020, a nifty £15m dividend pay-out from the council’s share in the thriving Manchester Airport means the deficit has been knocked down to £30m.
This is good news. A reduced budget gap means more jobs and more public services avoid the chop – particularly those affecting the most vulnerable, including the social care budget which will now face reduced cuts of £12m (not £27m as proposed in October). Elsewhere, plans to cut £800,000 from youth and play services, £605,000 from emergency grants and £500,000 from children’s speech therapy services have also been scrapped.
Still, there’s the small matter of £30m to find.
Councils are currently permitted to raise council tax by 1.99% each year, however, a recent Government ruling allows councils to increase council tax by an extra 3% over the next two years in order to deal with increased demand on social care.
Therefore, Manchester City Council is proposing to increase council tax by the maximum 4.99% in 2017/18 and 2018/19, and then by 1.99% in 2019/20, thereby raising £17.3m (for a property in band D this means council tax will increase by £178.20 between now and 2020).
Fair enough, you might say. In these grey days of austerity and budget cuts, it’s important that we not only tighten our belts, but chip in to make sure the most vulnerable amongst us don’t bear the brunt – this is a fundamental principle of a good, healthy, working society.
So why then, as we face-up to less cash in our pockets, are the council’s top brass getting more cash in their pay packets – to the tune of almost half a million quid.
You may remember in August last year, Confidential reporting on how the council were planning to push through hefty pay rises for senior council staff (read here) - plans which Lib Dem Councillor, John Leech, branded “frankly disgusting”.
The salary increases were, unsurprisingly, approved late last year.
So imagine our surprise when, on Friday 9 December, we received this from the council:
’The results of a review of senior officer salaries at Manchester City Council, which will save almost £250,000 over three years, will be reported to its Personnel Committee on Monday 12 December.’
A saving of £250,000 by increasing senior staff salaries? Eh? This doesn’t add up.
What the council fail to mention in the statement, but can be found tucked away within the report handed to the Personnel Committee (which, by the way, consists entirely of executive council members), is that the gross additional cost of council executive pay increases over the next three years will total £456,712.
Doesn’t sound like much of a saving to us? So what’s going on?
Turns out that by reorganising and streamlining senior council roles in recent years, the actual saving made by Manchester City Council is over £700k. However, taking into the account the extra £456k to be divvied out amongst senior management, beginning this year, the net saving drops to £250k.
So how can the council, in times of slashed public services and rising council tax, justify salary hikes for its top earners?
The answer? During hard times the council need the best to pull us through.
“The Council’s most senior officers are responsible for overseeing multi-million pound budgets and shaping the future of the city and its services,” says Cllr John Flanagan, Executive Member for Finance and HR.
“We recognise that this is always going to be a contentious area but in these challenging times we need to be able to attract and retain the most talented officers by paying them salaries comparable with those of other equivalent roles. Failure to do so would not be in the best interests of the city and its people.” (read the full statement below).
The last sentence stings. The best interests of the taxpayer is not to see as much as possible channeled into strained front line services, oh no, but to see the council's top brass paid even more?
Come on now.
How about we channel some of that £456k into the school-crossing patrol budget, which is facing cuts of £220,000 (yes that means some school crossings will become unmanned), or towards helping those 5,000 unlucky souls who approached the council to declare themselves homeless last year?
Ah sod ‘em, because 120 of the council’s most senior staff are to get an above inflationary pay rise, equating to around £3,800 each (roughly a quid for each full-time job cut by the council since 2010/11).
Bit of a kick in the teeth eh? Not only for the tax-payer forking out hundreds of pounds more in council tax over the next few years, or for the doomed school traffic wardens, but also for the thousands of lowly council staff handed a meagre 1% pay rise last year.
So what can you do about it? The senior salary pay increases have already been agreed, the £456k is gone. Still, the council’s proposed budget for 2017-20 remains in public consultation until 10 February. Let them know what you think here.
Full statement from Councillor John Flanagan, Executive Member for Finance and Human Resources:
"In the face of ongoing government cuts to our funding since 2010, which have seen Manchester among the hardest hit places, we have reduced our workforce by almost 40 per cent, from almost 10,500 posts to under 6,500 with senior management posts reducing in proportion to this.
"The Council's most senior officers are responsible for overseeing multi-million pound budgets and shaping the future of the city and its services. We recognise that this is always going to be a contentious area but in these challenging times we need to be able to attract and retain the most talented officers by paying them salaries comparable with those of other equivalent roles. Failure to do so would not be in the best interests of the city and its people.
"The recent senior salary staff review was carried out to ensure that remaining senior officers were fairly and consistently paid for their responsibilities – ironing out any inconsistencies and improving transparency. All Council officers below the most senior grades have already been through a similar job evaluation process and it was recognised that a similar independent process was required for the 120 most senior officers, using the nationally-recognised Local Government Senior Management Scheme to assess the relative responsibilities and challenges of roles.
"While some staff will be paid more as a result others will be paid less and the overall impact, in tandem with other changes to senior staff management structures, will be a saving of almost £250,000 over the next three years.
"Let me be absolutely clear, the proposed council tax increase as part of our budget proposals has nothing to do with salary changes. Every single penny of the money raised will be spent on supporting adult social care for the city's most vulnerable adults and services which people have told us are important to them, such as filling potholes and resurfacing roads."