Local government whipping boys hit again
Saloon bars across the West Midlands will be full of old buffers spluttering into their pink gins upon hearing that more than 60 council officials are now paid over ÃÂ£100,000 a year.
Generous holidays, long lunch breaks, gold-plated pensions, stroll into the office when you feel like it and go home early - that's the public perception of what the TaxPayers' Alliance calls fat cat town hall bosses.
And the TPA's research, based on Freedom of information Act questions to every council in the country, will sadly provide plenty of ammunition to reinforce the stereotypical view of council "pen-pushers".
Pay scales in the shire counties, which most people wrongly assume to be the poor relations of local government, are likely to cause most comment. Jim Graham, the chief executive at Warwickshire County Council, for example, earned ÃÂ£162,000 in 2006-07, while Staffordshire's Nigel Pursey was paid ÃÂ£176,000.
There will probably be gasps of astonishment that the chief executive of Dudley Council, Andrew Sparke, is paid ÃÂ£166,000 a year, while Mary Fraser, in neighbouring Sandwell gets almost 20 per cent less at ÃÂ£140,000.
But what about Katherine Kerswell, Solihull Council chief executive, bringing up the rear on ÃÂ£127,000, which is ÃÂ£8,000 a year less than Birmingham's education director and social care director earn.
And on the subject of Birmingham, Europe's largest council, Elaine Elkington, the director of housing, gets by on ÃÂ£126,000 and is expected to run efficiently one of the largest public sector housing operations in the country.
Much the same could be said about John McGuigan, Coventry Council's vastly experienced director of city development, who over the past 10 years has led an inspired campaign of urban redevelopment, who is paid ÃÂ£103,000. In the private sector, he'd be earning three or four times as much.
The numbers, of course, are meaningless on their own, unless of course your aim is to denigrate public officials en-masse. My view, based on 32 years experience of writing about local government, is that most senior council officials are better qualified, harder working and more motivated than ever before.
Ten years ago, perhaps, councils could have got away with carrying dead wood. But the introduction of Government targets and the Audit Commission's Comprehensive Performance Assessment has concentrated minds. Local authorities up and down the country are re-organising, laying off time-servers and incompetents, and hiring instead private sector high-flyers.
Birmingham City Council is pushing through a business transformation project that scores of other public bodies are already eyeing enviously. Over a 10-year period as much as ÃÂ£800 million will be saved through better IT and other efficiency programmes, enabling cash to be re-directed toward front line services and to keep council tax bills down.
Cynics may scoff, but the next decade really will see the best performing local authorities move away from profligacy towards unprecedented efficiency.
But you can't buy revolutionary change on the cheap. If anyone really believes running organisations with annual budgets amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds can be undertaken satisfactorily by depressing wages, they are mistaken.