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West Norfolk Conservatives raise ‘serious concern’ over ‘extraordinary’ pay rise for senior borough council staff

West Norfolk’s Conservative Group has voiced “serious concern” about an “extraordinary” pay rise for senior borough council staff.

The group, led by Cllr Stuart Dark, has raised the worries in a statement following the publication of a Peer Challenge review into West Norfolk Council, carried out through the Local Government Association.

The report praised the council for its financial and cost management, the strength of its partnership working, and the “can-do attitude” of its staff – although eight areas for improvement were also identified.

West Norfolk's Conservative leader Stuart Dark. The group has mixed feelings about the publication of a Peer Challenge review of the borough council.
West Norfolk's Conservative leader Stuart Dark. The group has mixed feelings about the publication of a Peer Challenge review of the borough council.

The Tories have welcomed the findings of the review, saying its members “willingly and constructively” took part in the process.

However, members have said it is “somewhat unfortunate” that the findings were released by the borough council on Wednesday before they had a chance to view them themselves.

A Conservative Group statement asked: “Was this to seize a positive narrative in light of recent negative news articles?

“Only the administration can say, but from our perspective we hope that those in charge now come to the table to work constructively with other councillors on the areas for improvement highlighted, which was after all the very purpose of the process and the expectation of all those who took part.

“However, as we are now having to respond to the administration’s press release, we feel we need to draw focus on to five areas of vital importance in the LGA review to residents.”

Among those five areas is a “staff pay award” which the Tories say involved the Independent-led administration introducing an “extraordinary additional two year increase onto many senior staff’s top-end pay connected to their length of service”.

They believe this is the “most serious issue which emerged” from the review, and have called for evidence to prove it was necessary.

“Now, it’s absolutely right that staff are an organisation’s most important asset and need rewarding and supporting as such and the LGA review report thankfully clearly recognises this,” the Conservatives said.

“However, staff are often its biggest financial outlay as well and it is incumbent on public bodies to spend your/our hard earned money wisely.

“Papers circulated at the time and reassurances given by the administration in key meetings to get this over the line highlighted this additional cost was absolutely vital and evidence-based as the council was suffering significant staff retention issues.

“However, the underpinning work behind these assertions has never been brought forward.

“They have also been contradicted by a subsequent council report which showed retention had not become an increasing challenge to previous years and confirmation that the cost impact to the budget/taxpayer of this increase had not gone through the senior finance officer or their team for calculation prior to agreement.

“The report further highlights recruitment issues for certain roles are no different to the challenges faced elsewhere in the public sector and highlights a number of areas for improvement in how the council recruits and engages its staff which are not pay related.

“So the question still has to be following this review, where was/is the evidence based justification for this extraordinary increase and associated budgetary pressure?”

Meanwhile, the Tories also made reference to scathing comments made by former Labour Group leader Charles Joyce, who slammed borough council leader Terry Parish upon resigning last week.

The Conservatives referenced this when discussing what they feel has been a lack of progress by the Independents since it formed a minority administration earlier this year.

They have also maintained that the council is in “much better shape financially” than the current administration has made out, saying it inherited a budget more healthy than many other councils nationally.

The statement added: “This is an important issue for residents as clearly the council has significant revenue and reserves as it comes in to next year’s budget setting round this January/February, where it decides level of ambition, rates of tax, fees and charges and service levels and any changes will be a choice of the current administration, not an absolute financial necessity.”

Members added that it was “heartening” to see the LGA review praise the work of the Lynn Town Deal Board, which is responsible for many key projects in the area.

“We as a group stand ready and willing to constructively engage the administration on the above and all the recommendations in the peer review as and when they bring them in to council groups and committees,” the Conservatives concluded.

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