It wasn’t the finest day in Shropshire Council’s history. Last Thursday, Conservative councillors, supported by many of the Labour group, gave the chief executive an increase in pay from £103,000 to £150,000 a year (46%). The directors that report to the chief executive will get a pay increase from £101,000 to as much £130,000 (up to 29% increase).
The rest of the staff will get an average of 6% increase, as part of a national pay award and to bring Shropshire pay rates in line with national rates for council employees.
Many of us could not stomach voting for greater disparity between those at the top and those that deliver Shropshire Council’s services day-to-day. One behalf of the Lib Dem group, I put forward an amendment to the pay policy paper that applauded the wage rise for most staff. After all, in 2011 they had their pay cut in what I have described as “one of the darkest hours in the history of local government.”
There was a second part to my amendment. That said the pay rise for senior executives should be limited to 6%, the same as the other staff.
I praised the staff that work for us. But I said we should not increase the disparity between the highest and lowest salaries. The wage rates for most staff are negotiated nationally by all councils. It always stretches the budget but we do need to pay people the going rate. Not just because that is fair, but also to recruit and retain people.
The pay of the most senior grades is assessed separately. Consultants are retained to look at how much executives are paid elsewhere. Then pay is jacked up to match. I have never seen pay cut by this sort of comparative exercise.
I was backed by other Lib Dems. Unsurprisingly, the Tories took a different line. Councillor David Minnery declared he was “staggered” by the amendment. He accused us of proposing “unfair treatment” for executive staff. I still don’t understand that.
Our amendment was defeated by the Conservatives. No surprise there.
A vote on the main recommendations followed. In what was clearly a pre-arranged move, a Conservative councillor stood up and called for a recorded vote. Many of the Tory ranks stood to support him –support from 12 councillors is needed for individual councillor votes to be recorded.
This was raw politics. The recommendation to council was to increase general staff pay by 6% and to give a whacking huge rise to senior executives. Voting against the rises of up to 50% for executives would also have meant voting against a sorely needed wage rise and bringing many staff up to the level of the living wage.
It had always been planned that way. And the recorded vote was set as a trap to get the opposition to vote against an increase in staff pay.
What happened next was both surprising and unsurprising.
The Conservatives, who to what their whip instructs them to do, voted for the pay rises. The Lib Dems abstained. We wanted the staff pay rise but not the executive rise. That was an individual vote as Lib Dems are not whipped.
But, and this was the surprise, most of Labour voted in favour of an increase in both staff pay and executive pay. I am not an expert on Labour policy or values but I would not have expected them to vote to increase the pay disparity between the highest and lowest paid. The way they voted was as puzzling as Councillor Minnery’s accusation that we Lib Dems were treating senior executives unfairly by limiting their wage rise to around £6,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the pay rises will increase Shropshire Council’s gap between income and expenditure. The plan is to cut £5.3 million from social care and public health budgets to fund the rises.