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News and Comment August 2019

Index: 2020

1 August - Council employment is just a self interested gravy train

BeltonA few eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Bexley’s Chief Executive Jackie Belton had been earning around forty grand a year from job pay offs, let alone her inflated salaries.

It was always thus.

In 2011 when Sir Eric Pickles (now Lord Pickles) was Secretary of State for Communities my friends MIck Barnbrook and Elwyn Bryant organised a petition asking the Council to reduce the salaries of their Directors which topped £200,000; twice what the Secretary of State had said should be the maximum.

2011 was peak lying time for Bexley Council. If you think they are too often the most part appalling liars now you should have been watching them back then.

Elwyn and Mick helped by John Watson and Nicholas Dowling trudged the streets for weeks gathering the required 2,000 signatures but Bexley Council, crooked as ever, refused to accept the petition.

They said that Elwyn and Mick had falsified the salaries stated on the petition and they had therefore misled residents. How ironic; the salaries were my only contribution to the petition. It had been sent to me for an opinion and I suggested that instead of using approximate salary figures they took them directly from Bexley’s website so that there could be no argument.

Despite that Bexley Council rejected the petition by claiming those figures, their own figures, were wrong. As Councillor Linda Bailey famously declared at the very same time; “we can do what we like”. ††

Despite the setback Elwyn’s interest in the subject continued. When the News Shopper revealed that Bexley’s Chief Executive Gill Steward was given £92,000 as a reward for failure he asked his MP James Brokenshire what he thought about it. Mr. Brokenshire was Communities Secretary at the time but thanks to Boris Johnson’s clear out only a week later he didn’t have to reply to the letter. That came from a Civil Servant who said the guidance recommended that large severance packages should be considered by Full Council in public.

Other recommendations are that senior executives voluntarily reduce their earnings, that Chief Executives should be shared between local authorities and that severance payments should be capped at £95,000. The immoral gravy train which is senior Council job appointments is totally out of hand when the Merry Go Round of job swapping becomes the norm.

It was not always thus as another local commentator reminds me…

Your blogs about ex-gratia payments and salaries make alarming reading. I remember as a child council workers were paid less than those from the private sector on the premise that they would receive a better pension. †

More recently an argument was made that to attract the ‘right’ kind of applicant salaries commensurate with the private sector HAD to be offered - without any regard for the advantageous pension benefits. One of the reasons we face the incredible amounts now on offer.

George Osborne, when he was chancellor, saw what was happening and how employees on a final salary pension were getting out of control and he put limits on these pensions.

The law of unintended consequences took over and GPs (among others) began to retire because without an enhanced pension there was little point in continuing to work. Council staff saw a way around this and simply left one job for another collecting another severance payment on the way to the next highly paid job. Something not available to GPs. It seems that Bexley Council has not seen through this or is happy to allow it. Probably the latter.

Since I retired myself I took on an occasional job with a nearby borough, only for a few weeks a year. I’m signed up to the Local Government Pension Scheme and have been amazed at how much pension I have accrued. I pay only 5·5% on a sliding scale whilst the employer contributes another 18·5%. Staggering! On top of that I’m given life insurance and ill health pension rights!!

I’ve been told that the previous pension scheme was even more generous. Mr. Pickles should have sorted that out but alas it didn’t happen.

† I remember my father saying the same thing when I joined the GPO in 1962. It might be more acceptable if Council employees were more competent than they are but one only has to look at the design of Bexley’s roads and roundabouts or the latest bin cock-up to know that they aren’t.
†† Actually “I can do what I like”.


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