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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 07:04 GMT
Council tax hikes 'fund fat cats'
Council Tax notice
Council tax goes on "fat cat" salaries, a pressure group claims
Council tax increases have been used to fund around 600 "fat cat" officials who each earned more than 100,000 last year, according to low tax campaigners.

The Taxpayers' Alliance has produced a "rich list" of staff from councils including Kent, Wandsworth and Surrey.

The Local Government Association said council salaries were "very good value for money".

Local Government minister Phil Woolas warned that councils must ensure that their salaries were affordable.

The number of staff whose pay packets topped the 100,000 mark increased by 35% last year, according to data obtained by the Taxpayers Alliance under the Freedom of Information Act.

An 'insult'

The Taxpayers' Alliance reported that the highest earner in 2005-6 was Tom Scholes, chief executive of Renfrewshire Council in Scotland, who received 233,029 - although this included a 113,015 redundancy payment.

But the council issued a "categoric" denial that Mr Scholes had been the highest paid official.

"The truth is that Mr Scholes was paid 123,264 in 2005-6 - a salary set in line with national agreements and comparable to similar-sized authorities," a spokesman said.

It was also revealed that Kent chief executive Peter Gilroy - who earned 229,999 - followed by Wandsworth's chief executive and Director of Administration Gerald Jones on 227,424.

The top 10 were paid more than Prime Minister Tony Blair's salary of 186,429.

The list, based on responses from 230 councils, gives details of the 578 employees who were paid more than 100,000 in 2005-6.

Figures disclosed for the previous year show that only 429 people fell into that category.

The total wage bill for those on the list was 72 million - compared to 53 million for those in the same earning bracket in 2004-5.

'Gold-plated salaries'

Taxpayers' Alliance chairman Andrew Allum said: "Thousands of pensioners are having to choose between heating their homes and paying their council tax bills.

"It's a complete insult to their dignity that so much of their money goes down the drain on top salaries for council staff.

"Town halls need to get a grip and cut back on gold-plated salaries, or they will find that council tax quickly becomes the new poll tax."

In 2006-7 the average increase in council tax in England and Wales was 4.5%, and critics claim council tax levels have nearly doubled since Labour came to power in 1997.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents more than 400 councils in England and Wales, said: "The people who earn these salaries are responsible for multi-million pound budgets in highly complex organisations, and to attract the best and brightest people to deliver value for money you have to pay a suitable wage.

"When senior salaries in the private sector are compared to senior salaries in the public sector, the taxpayer gets very good value for money."

'Independently vetted'

Mr Woolas said: "Local authorities are responsible for managing their own pay arrangements, not central Government.

"We expect them to ensure - like any public body - that these arrangements are affordable and deliver good value for money."

He added that the Government had provided 10 successive years of above-inflation grant increases to local authorities.

Eric Pickles, the Conservatives' local government spokesman said: "Soaring local government salaries, combined with the cost of local government pensions, is one of the many drivers of soaring council taxes under Gordon Brown."

Renfrewshire Council said Mr Scholes' salary of 123,264 was "in line with national agreements and comparable to similar-sized authorities".

Kent County Council its senior staff were paid "appropriate" salaries for their role in managing a local authority with a budget of more than 1.5 billion.

Wandsworth Council said Mr Jones's salary was independently vetted by industry specialists.

During his 21 years in post he had helped to ensure that its bills had been the lowest in the country, said a spokesman.

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