Thursday 19 September 2013

Staff Pay Awards

The details of the pay awards for Cambridgeshire County Council employees have now been announced.  The agreement is for a 1% pay rise for the majority of staff, 0.8% for the middle management band and 0.5% for the most senior staff. 
It is interesting to see the conflicting pressures and views on this – our two biggest opposition political groups called for 0% for the top two tiers (albeit the Lib Dem member of the committee  voted at the committee just for 0% for the most senior management - more of which later) whereas the Unions called for 1% across the board – that suggests to me that the recommendation that Cabinet put to the Appointments and Remuneration Committee was probably about right.

I found the Liberal Democrat stance on this extraordinary.  The proposed pay rise went through our group leaders before the recommendation went forwards.  To be fair to the UKIP group, they were consistently opposed to a rise in the top two tiers – and they were the only group to oppose at group leaders.
So having nodded the change through at group leaders, imagine my surprise when all of a sudden the Lib Dems chose to release details of a confidential paper to the media and, in my view, blatantly lied. 

Their press release said this:
High-earning Cambridgeshire County Council officers could get a pay increase just weeks after the rest of the staff were told they face a pay cut and even possible redundancy.”

The Lib Dems know (they know because they tried to spin this before and had the truth pointed out to them) that if the reduction in salaries we are consulting on is implemented it will apply to absolutely all staff – so if the proposed reduction was combined with the pay rise which is 1% for the lower tier, 0.8% for the middle tier and 0.5% for the top tier, senior staff would face a bigger reduction (2.5%) than more junior staff (3%).  The Lib Dems have since spun this to talk about specific figures – but the basic truth is clear, if we went forwards with a salary reduction, senior staff would be hit hardest both in percentage and numerical terms (although it is worth pointing out for accuracy that the reduction would start next April whereas all the agreed pay rises will be backdated to April). 
Does this matter? It does for two reasons:
1. The electorate deserve to be told the truth; I want opposing groups to challenge when they think we have got it wrong and to put forward alternative arguments – but if they have to bend and twist the truth like this, then it helps no-one.  
2.  This particular deceit has the potential to drive a wedge between senior staff and the employees of the Council.  We have amazing staff who are facing tough times, they do not deserve to be lied to, things are tough enough financially in Cambridgeshire without this.
Next year there are elections taking place in Cambridge and in some of our Districts.  Ask yourselves this question – do you want to elect someone to power who is willing to mislead you in the way the Lib Dems have here?

The issue about salary reductions is being sold by some almost as a done deal; it is absolutely not the case.  The proposal is part of a wider review of pay and conditions which encompasses a number of options, we decided to include a possible 3% across the board reduction in salaries in light of the fact that we have £33m of savings to find for FY2014/2015; it was right to ask the question – but I made it clear at the last full council meeting that we had to be very mindful of the impact of such decisions on staff morale and on recruitment and retention - so we will listen to the voice of staff.  I have also consulted with a few other Council Leaders who have already made decisions to reduce salaries so I can get their views on the impact on their staff.  I, and my Cabinet colleagues, are waiting to see the responses from the consultation before we make any recommendations (and of course we will consult other political groups as well).  I am pretty sure that any final outcome will have a number of significant tweaks to what was consulted on, because I am determined that this should be a proper consultation and not tokenism.

For information, here are a few basic facts about salaries in Cambridgeshire:

1.    Government indicated to Council’s that it should challenge the ratio between the lowest paid council employees and the highest and if it was higher than 1:20 then it should do something about this.  Cambridgeshire’s ratio is well below this at 1:15.
2.    Cambridgeshire’s workforce has been reducing over recent years and this has included the senior leadership team; for example from our CLT team over the last 2 years we have seen a reduction in the number of Executive and Service Directors, which has resulted in 15% less capacity and equivalent reduction in cost of over £300,000 per annum.     
3.    The pay increases announced were not just concerned with Directors and senior managers, in fact these were the minor number - it included over 1,000 of our employees that deliver services to our communities on a daily basis – senior social workers, children’s centre managers, engineers, education advisers; senior professionals/managers whose average salary is 36k.
A final point, we could of course have given absolutely nothing to our most senior managers, and some would say they can afford it.  However – we do have a duty to ensure that we keep the best staff in Cambridgeshire.  The Leader of the UKIP group has challenged whether there is a real issue here – in fact he said on the radio:

“At the end of the day it’s a captured market. So these executives move from council to council, constantly raising the costs, and claiming that they’d earn twice the money if they were out in the public sector.”
The accuracy of that comment will unravel in the next few weeks.  But the truth is that our Strategic Directors are responsible for budgets that can run into hundreds of millions of pounds, they run services that keep children and vulnerable adults safe and are responsible for leveraging millions of pounds into the County Council’s coffers – so I want the best people in Cambridgeshire because 2nd best means less safe people and less money coming in from outside sources; our view was that the differential pay rise sends a message that we recognise the value and the great work that all of our staff do from the top to the bottom of the organisation whilst providing some balance.

UPDATE:   The news was released late last week that one of our Strategic Directors is moving to take up a Directorship in Royal Mail - this means that the last two Directors to leave the employ of Cambridgeshire County Council have not moved from "council to council" - which is the claim made by UKIP.

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