East Sussex councils respond to report on highest paid staff

East Sussex authorities have given their views on the latest Town Hall Rich List published by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA). 

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 10:44 am

On Wednesday (April 7), the TPA, a public spending pressure group, released its latest Town Hall Rich List, an annual publication compiling all UK council employees in receipt of £100,000 or more.

In East Sussex, the TPA reports that there were 30 council employees who earned total remuneration (including pension contributions) of more than £100,000 in the 2019/20 financial year. 

The majority were employees of East Sussex County Council, which had 14  senior staff members earning above this benchmark.

East Sussex County Council, based at County Hall, has the largest number of high earners

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “Our senior officers are responsible for a gross annual budget of more than £800 million and around 5,000 staff who deliver vital services to the people of East Sussex.

“The scale of the leadership challenge running a complex organisation and services in the face of significant financial challenge, complex needs and multiple risks is significant, as has been demonstrated by the Covid-19 response over the last year.

“It is therefore extremely important that we are able to attract and retain the best people, who have the skills, experience and knowledge to carry out their role effectively. Our policy is to pay all of our staff – including senior managers – salaries which are in line with the average pay grade for those doing similar jobs in the public sector in the south east.

“In recent years we have reduced the number of senior managers by a quarter, and details of senior officer pay are available on the council’s website.”

The county council also had the single highest paid employee in East Sussex – chief executive Becky Shaw, who the TPA say earned a salary of £178,669 plus pension contributions worth £31,892.

What the TPA does not record, however, is that in January 2020 (shortly before the end of the financial year), Ms Shaw also became chief executive of West Sussex County Council as part of a shared role between the two councils.

The TPA lists Wealden District Council as having five employees earning total remuneration above £100,000. These included chief executive Trevor Scott, who was the highest earning individual employee of the council with a salary of £125,761. 

A spokesman for the authority said: “Wealden District Council serves one of the largest districts in the South East. Over the past year, we have been providing additional Covid emergency support to our communities as well as a wide range of other public services.

“Our pay policy is approved by our elected members, who recognise the enormous contribution staff have made over the past year. 

“In view of the impact Covid has had on our communities, the council has agreed to further support local residents by freezing the district’s council tax contributions with a consequent freeze on employee pay.

“We believe all our employees continue to provide outstanding value.”

Some East Sussex councils say the TPA figures are out-of-date, however, as costs have been cut since the 2019/20 financial year. 

For example, three of the posts listed by the TPA have been made redundant by Lewes District Council and Eastbourne Borough Council.

The TPA figures also show that Lewes District Council has no employees earning over £100,000, while Eastbourne Borough Council has five, despite both councils sharing a workforce. 

A spokesman for Lewes and Eastbourne said: “Three posts have been deleted from the Corporate Management Team (CMT), equating to a total remuneration reduction of over £300,000. 

“The chief executive has assumed all the day-to-day managerial responsibilities of these former directors.

“It should also be remembered that the chief executive and senior officers on CMT are responsible for running both Lewes District Council and Eastbourne Borough Council.”

Other councils have also said their current spending does not match the 2019/20 figures. 

Rother District Council for example is listed as having two executive director roles, each earning salaries of £99,564, with pension contributions of £17,291.

However, these roles were merged last year with a single chief executive taking its place. At the time, councillors were told the new chief executive role is expected to be paid a salary of around £115,000 per annum. 

A Rother District Council spokesman said: “Recently, the two executive director posts have been replaced with a single chief executive post, allowing Rother District Council to make savings on top of those already achieved through efficiency savings, partnership working and the devolvement of assets and some services.

“Senior officer roles come with considerable responsibilities, which is reflected in the salaries offered. To ensure we attract candidates with the expertise and experience to run services residents rely upon, we need to pay a competitive salary in line with similar local government posts in the south east.

“The salaries of senior officers are publicly available on our website.”

Meanwhile Hastings Borough Council is listed as having three senior officers who had total remunerations of over £100,000. 

However, two of these posts have since been deleted, with the council now employing a single managing director in place of its two executive director roles.

A spokesman for the council said: “These figures are already out of date. We are continuing to ensure savings are made at Hastings Borough Council, and since 2019/20, which these figures refer to,  total senior management costs have been significantly reduced through the combination of two director roles into one managing director position from 1 April 2020. 

“Our organisation’s capacity remains increasingly limited due to reductions in central government funding. Attracting and retaining key staff in an under resourced organisation becomes increasingly difficult.”

According to the TPA’s figures, at least 2,802 people employed by UK local authorities in 2019-20 received more than £100,000 in total remuneration, including pension contributions.

This, the TPA said, was an increase of 135 employees receiving more than £100,000 in 2018-19.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers facing huge and hated council tax rises want to know they are getting value for money from their local authority leadership.

“At the onset of the coronavirus crisis, thousands of town hall officials were taking home huge sums. While councils were plunged into tackling the pandemic, many staff will have more than earned their keep, but households have nevertheless struggled with enormous and unpopular council tax rises.

“These figures shine a light on the town hall bosses who’ve got it right, and will enable residents to hold those who aren’t delivering value for money to account.”