Members of the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) knew they were on to a sure-fire winner when they circulated details of the salaries paid to top executives at local authorities across the UK.
The information was released in the wake of mounting public anger at the obscene bonuses paid out to bankers who failed so miserably to keep trusted high street names on the straight and narrow.
Thus it was the press release equivalent of throwing a kitten out of a tenth storey window. You just sit back and wait for the howls of outrage.
If we are honest, the gut reaction of most people when they see the sums of money involved is a mixture of shock, anger and jealousy.
When the average annual pay for a full-time worker in the Potteries is around the £22,000 mark, salaries of almost £160,000 per annum seem absurd.
Yet that is what Steve Robinson, former Stoke-on-Trent City Council manager was earning before he jumped ship at the end of last year.
According to the TPA, Mr Robinson was being paid the princely sum of £157,661. Having said that, his replacement – the new permanent chief executive – will earn up to £195,000 a year. Nice work if you can get it.
Indeed, 23 senior officers at councils across North Staffordshire and south Cheshire collected salaries of more than £100,000 last year.
These included RENEW North Staffordshire director Hardial Bhogal on £129,685; regeneration director Tom Macartney on £124,449, and the city council’s former director of community services, Julie Seddon, on £123,220.
According to one national newspaper, salaries of forty, fifty and sixty thousand pounds a year plus are ten-a-penny at local authorities across the country.
Yes, and I saw a pig flying over the Civic Centre last Tuesday evening.
While it may be true to say that a few thousand people working for councils across the UK earn substantially more than the local or national average salary, the fact is the pay of the vast, vast majority of local authority employees is pretty ordinary. Yes, some are able to work flexible hours and they all receive decent pension contributions.
But to suggest that our councils are chock-full of Bentley-driving flash-Harrys with two homes and a yacht moored at Westport Lake is something of an exaggeration.
The fact is, as with most private companies, the pay of local authority employees is dictated by seniority and is commensurate with responsibility.
And, as with all firms in the private sector there will be those who earn their money because they are committed and talented and others who you wouldn’t pay in washers but who have, by some twist of fate, risen to the dizzy heights of senior management and are taking home very good wages for doing… well, not very much.
Look at it this way: If you’re the managing director of a company employing 500 people with a turnover running into several million pounds then you would expect a six-figure salary, a decent pension and your own parking space out front.
Likewise, if you’re the top man or woman at a council employing 10,000 people and are responsible for everything from keeping the parks free of dog poo to helping to maintain standards at local schools, then you should also expect to be handsomely rewarded.
After all, if – God forbid – you have a Baby P-type scandal happen during your watch, then you are there to be shot at.
The difference is, of course, that it’s public money we are talking about. And taxpayers quite rightly want to know their cash is being spent wisely on people who are doing a good job.
Most people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at such salaries if their council was super-slick, never made a mistake and their bins were always collected courteously and on time.
But show them a busted street light and suddenly something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
So long as they do a decent job, I have no problem with the top executives at local authorities being well-rewarded.
Given the fact that the Potteries has become the political equivalent of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in recent years, one could argue that senior officers of this rudderless ship earn every penny.
So you may or may not think Steve Robinson, for example, or his predecessor Dr Ita O’Donovan did a good job during their time in charge at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Frankly, I’ve no idea. None of these high-rollers seems to hang around long enough for us to judge.
Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel