County council accused of prioritising officers’ pay over services

County Hall in Northallerton.

Cash-strapped North Yorkshire County Council has been accused of prioritising its senior officers’ pay over taxpayers and services for the vulnerable.

Opposition members of the Conservative-led authority have called for a review of top officers pay, saying it was unacceptable that nine officers are paid more than £100k while residents face rising council tax and key services are reduced.

Independent and Labour councillors described the £1.2m total paid to the nine officers in 2016/17 as “exorbitant”, and said residents would struggle to understand why the officers were being paid the six-figure sums while the council pressed on with controversial service cuts to lower its budget by £169m.

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They claimed the council was also employing a significant number of people on salaries slightly less than £100k, which do not have to be published.

Councillor Eric Broadbent, leader of the council’s Labour group, said: “I am totally against these massive amounts of money going to officers.

“There needs to be a review of county council pay, as while these officers receive ludicrous salaries, its Tory leaders are picking at services for the vulnerable and setting council tax rises.”

Other members said while frontline staff and services such as libraries had gone since the government’s austerity drive forced the council to cut its budget by 34 per cent over a decade, no senior posts at the authority had been cut back and their pay had remained unchanged.

They said over the same period other authorities, such as the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Leeds, had stripped back their senior leadership teams to help maintain services.

Independent councillor for Richmond Stuart Parsons said it was wrong that the leading county council officers contracts had not been renegotiated while frontline roles had been axed.

He added while some council services – such as education, where academies have replaced many of the authority-run schools – had seen a significant drop in responsibilities for top officers, yet pay had not been changed to reflect that.

Councillor Parsons said: “It does give the impression of people sitting in their ivory towers not realising what is going on in the real world.”

The criticism comes a week after the authority’s leaders were urged to reassess their priorities by some members, including Conservatives, over proposals to introduce fees for special needs pupils’ transport to school.

However, figures released by the Taxpayers Alliance show neighbouring authorities, including Durham County, Leeds City and Lancashire , all paid more six-figure salaries to officers.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les said the senior officers had been subject to a pay freeze for a number of years and managing a £530m budget and 20,000 staff required expertise.

He said: “I have no concerns about the level of salaries that we are paying our top officers.

“We will always keep an eye on efficiencies, you can always do something better, but we have made cuts to back office and there comes a point when it becomes very difficult to continue.”