Friday, 26 November 2010

How journalism works ("Wrexham Council boss wages anger")

This is today's front page in the Wrexham Leader:

WREXHAM Council has come under fire over plans to award its chief executive a pay rise.

Isobel Garner’s salary could jump to an estimated £109,000 at a time when the local authority has said it is looking to cut its budget by £7 million.

The increase represents a 1.4 per cent pay rise for Ms Garner, who currently earns £107,472.

The move has been branded “unacceptable” by some members, who say it sends out the wrong message in the current difficult economic climate.

Marc Jones, county councillor for the Whitegate ward, attacked the planned increase saying: “When many council workers are facing uncertainty about their jobs and pay freezes, it’s unacceptable that the authority's highest paid officer should be receiving a pay rise.

“I couldn't support the recommendations made in the report and the feeling among councillors was that belt tightening has to start at the top.

“More fundamentally, I would also question the whole way in which executive pay is decided within the public sector. The advice from outside consultants is always to match salaries to their equivalent in other authorities.

"To do so in our chief executive’s case could have meant a 20 per cent pay rise and that was rightly rejected by councillors. Highly paid consultants are helping to inflate top salaries in the public sector.”

Cllr Malcolm King, the county councillor for Wynnstay ward, said: “Unfortunately I can’t comment on the merits or otherwise of any individual’s pay or employment conditions.

“But given that so many people are losing their jobs or having their pay frozen and even cut, members of the public and probably some of our own staff may feel this is extremely unfortunate timing to say the least. One could very easily sympathise with that view.”

Caia Park community councillor John Humberstone said he was stunned by the pay level, particularly when many people in the town are facing a bleak Christmas with the prospect of job losses and wage cuts.

He said: “I think this is inappropriate and distasteful. I would call on her to lead from the front and not take the rise. A figure of £100,000-plus is an awful lot of money for the council tax payers of Wrexham to fund.

“I don’t think it is right that someone on that kind of wage is getting a rise at this time. The price of goods in the supermarkets is the same for everyone and so many are struggling to make ends meet.”

A statement from the authority says it reviewed its senior pay levels on Monday. The recommendations were made by a politically balanced pay and reward panel with external advice. Staff are not involved in reviewing their own pay.

“The chief executive’s pay is openly available on our website. However the report to council was considered confidentially for reasons that it was still in a negotiation phase,” the statement said.

“Council recommended formal consultation with the employees affected and consequently the information on pay levels remains confidential. The chief executive’s pay has not been reviewed for a number of years.

“Clearly the council is engaged in making efficiency savings and one of the key terms of reference of the pay and reward panel was affordability and consistency.

“As a result the recommendations currently being consulted on involve minimal changes to current pay levels. The chief executive’s pay level changes by 1.4 per cent and the strategic and performance director’s pay does not change immediately although they do transfer to incremental scales, consistent with the rest of the organisation.”

A council spokesman added the award is not likely to be implemented for the next three months because consultation now takes place between the employees affected and the pay and reward panel.

The local authority’s website currently lists Ms Garner’s gross annual salary as £107,472.

Despite what some political opponents believe, my response was based on the Leader's reporter contacting me for a quote based on the council's own press release, which revealed the chief executive's 1.4% pay rise.

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