Big rise in county council's top earners

THE number of staff earning more than £50,000 a year at Suffolk County Council has increased by 30% in the last year, it has emerged.

Graham Dines

THE number of staff earning more than £50,000 a year at Suffolk County Council has increased by 30% in the last year, it has emerged.

The authority has already been heavily criticised for recruiting highly-paid officers - including a chief executive earning £218,000 a year - when its future is unclear. It is also spending £500 a day on consultants for its public relations unit until it appoints a new department head earning up to £81,000.

Now, a report for the last financial year shows the council has 169 employees in the highest paid grades - representing a significant leap.

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During the same period, the 75 county councillors paid themselves an extra £151,000 in allowances, taking the annual cost to council taxpayers of elected politicians to more than £1m.

In 2006-7, Suffolk County Council employed 137 staff on grades above £50,000. Top earner was former chief executive Mike More in the range £150,000-£159,999, four senior directors were paid between £100,000 and £119,999, 11 were on £80,000-£99,999 and 121 between £50,000 and £79,999.

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Last year, the pay of Mr More rose to above £160,000, one director reached the £120,000-£129,999 band, and three others the £110,000-£119,999 pay band.

Seventeen officers were paid between £80,000 and £99,999 while staff earning between £50,000 and £79,999 reached 147.

The increase in teaching staff salaries, which also are paid out of council tax, of more than £50,000 was even higher, up from 181 to 248. Four head teachers were paid between £90,000 and £99,999, compared with none in 2006-7.

Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said the Conservative-controlled council “constantly says it is cash strapped and has difficulty in making ends meet, but it is paying out very high salaries.”

He said: “It is completely inappropriate for the council to be expanding their army of well paid middle managers by such a large amount.”

As the EADT revealed last week, Suffolk is paying £500 a day for temporary consultants to lead its communications department while it seeks to fill the vacancy caused by the sudden departure of its public relations officer Francis Thomas.

The county council has also been criticised for deciding to replace Mr Thomas, at a time when the authority's future existence is in doubt. Earlier this year, the council attracted negative headlines when appointing new Chief Executive Andrea Hill on a salary of £218,000.

A council spokesman said: “The increase in the number of staff in the £50,000+ band is because the figures are now based on pay inclusive of employee pension contributions whereas they previously excluded this element.”

The council's draft accounts show that the total basic allowances paid to the 75 county councillors was £691,000 last year, compared to £603,000 the previous year. The special responsibility allowance - paid to party leaders, cabinet members, the council chairman and the development control committee chairman increased from £225,000 to £289,000. A further £91,000 was claimed in expenses.

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