CHARLES GRAHAM - Leading austerity cuts by example

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WIGAN Council was this week heading towards having the leanest management team in Greater Manchester.

Having already shed dozens of senior town hall posts along with those of hundreds of other workers whose jobs have gone in the swingeing cuts, the full council was last night voting on streamlining the very highest echelons.

Chief executive Joyce Redfearn had offered to take early retirement in a plan which would then see one of the three directors ranked below her taking the top job for £42,000 less than she has been getting.

The post that they vacate will then disappear (responsibilities being redrawn between other top brass) so that the authority will be able to save upwards of £200,000 a year from now on.

Big numbers for those folk making ends meet on minimum wage, benefits or even a reasonably well-paid job; a quite small amount when you consider the council’s overall task of hacking a mammoth £66m from its budget in the space of just three years.

For those who feel that local government has become a bloated source of non-jobs and that many of its talented workers would be better off (for themselves and the British economy) employed in the private sector, this paring down of the workforce from top to bottom will no doubt be welcomed.

But you cannot lose this amount of people and so many skilled employees without there being some negative impact. How Wigan will cope post-Redfearn only time will tell. From a dispassionate point of view I think her offer to go has been a noble one and sends the important signal to the Wigan population in general and those whose jobs have gone from the town hall pay roll already that no-one is immune from the cuts and in that respect it sets a good example.

Of course Ms Redfearn will be a lot more comfortably off than almost any other Wigan folk who have taken early retirement or redundancy of late, but that’s to be expected when she has risen so high in local government.

Her £187,000 salary has more than once been quoted as being tens of thousands of pounds more than the Prime Minister gets for running the country.

There is a cogent argument to be had at the unfairness of that but on the other hand there are plenty of private industry bosses with workforces of a similar size to Wigan Council’s whose income will dwarf that of council chief executives.

The difference, of course, is that taxpayers’ money is at issue in the public sector.

If we think that the chief executive of such-and-such a major retailer, for example, is earning too much, you have the option to boycott its shops, whereas there is no choice but to pay our taxes that go towards public sector wage bills.

Personally I think Joyce Redfearn will be a local loss.

A very approachable person, I think in the last seven years she has been in post she has done a good job, overseeing a number of major projects and seeing the authority garnering several awards for its services and good housekeeping.