Bristol City Council official cost taxpayers £280k as top earnings revealed

Accounts for Bristol City Council reveal how much top officials are paid Credit: BPM Media

The highest paid official at Bristol City Council earned £280,000 last year, the authority’s accounts reveal.

Interim director of homes and landlord services Donald Graham's salary cost taxpayers £280,634 in 2021/22 – almost £100,000 more than the authority’s chief executive Mike Jackson.

The annual draft statement of accounts also shows exit payments soared from £159,000 the previous year to £1million, including a £120,000 payoff to an unnamed officer on a six-figure salary.

And the number of council employees paid at least £50,000 shot up by more than a quarter from 198 in 2020/21 to 268, while those on more than £100,000 doubled from four to eight, not including temporary, agency staff who tend to cost more.

The report to the audit committee sparked concerns from councillors.

Donald Graham at a housing management board Zoom meeting earlier this year Credit: LDRS

Bristol City Council says salaries of top officers are agreed by the cross party HR committee and reflect their roles and responsibilities leading a billion-pound organisation that runs a major city, while the number of positions has been cut saving £1million a year.

A note in the accounts said the huge amount the authority forked out for Mr Graham was the cost incurred to secure his services on an interim basis and not the amount he actually received, which would have been lower after a cut to a third party, such as a recruitment firm.

Contractors also do not receive pay for holiday or sick leave or employer’s pension contributions.

The accounts said another interim officer who was paid at least £150,000 pro rata, children and family services director Sarah Parker, cost the organisation £55,000 for a maximum of three months’ work between January and March 2022.

Others included property service manager Patricia Barry who was paid £142,300 from August 2021 to March this year and head of financial planning Alan Layton who earned £78,200 between last November and March.

Clean Air Zone communication and engagement director Nicki Beardmore, the highest paid interim officer over the previous 12 months at a cost to the council of £218,005, was given £85,600 from April to September, 2021; while director of adults transformation J Blackburn cost £30,932 in February and March this year.

Of the council’s top employees, rather than interim officers, chief executive Mr Jackson received £174,073, just ahead of executive director of growth and regeneration Stephen Peacock on £172,413 plus a £12,046 pension contribution.

Executive director of people Hugh Evans earned £140,793 with £29,566 for his pension, taking his package to £170,359.

Director of management of place Patsy Mellor, chief financial officer Denise Murray and workforce and change director John Walsh had £125,000 salaries.

Conservative Cllr Jonathan Hucker told the meeting on Tuesday 26 July that Mr Graham had been paid “considerably more” than the chief executive and asked if the role could be filled on a permanent basis to avoid expensive agency fees. 

Ms Murray confirmed the post-holder was now an employee “so you will see a reduction in that amount for future years”.

Cllr Hucker said: “The council’s use of interims is one of the reasons there is a lack of clarity in its pay policy which is why the Conservative group has not been able to vote for the pay policy.”

The report said there were 67 exit payments totalling £1m in 2021/22, compared with 15 payoffs amounting to £159,000 the year before.

The latest figures comprised 46 compulsory redundancies, of which 40 were staff earning less than £20,000, and 21 “other departures” where staff were paid to leave, including the £120,000 exit windfall.

Asked by Cllr Hucker what had driven the “substantial” rise in employees earning more than £50,000, head of corporate finance Glenn Hammons said: “There are two reasons for that.

“First of all it’s down to the fact the (pay) bands used for the analysis undertaken have not been changed, therefore there are now more employees having received pay awards in the year and also incremental progression that are now being captured in that £50K-plus banding.

“We have done the work behind it to understand those are the clear reasons.”

Ms Murray said the increase in exit packages was because of the authority’s succession planning policy implemented throughout 2021/22.

She said it enabled employees who wanted to leave to do so and be replaced by junior colleagues looking to step into their roles.

Ms Murray said the increase appeared so significant because provision had to be made in the accounts for all potential exits that may take place up to 18 months from the day of the decision, while the numbers and costs of the payoffs had been agreed but not necessarily paid.

A council spokesperson said: “Salaries of the most senior officers at Bristol City Council are agreed by a cross-party human resources committee.

“They reflect the roles and responsibilities of senior officers who lead a billion-pound organisation with over 6,500 employees and responsible for running a city of half a million people, with 183,000 households and an economy worth over £14billion.

“To ensure our management structure remains efficient and value for money, the number of senior positions has been reduced over the past four years which has saved the council over £1million a year.”

Credit: Local Democracy Reporter Service/ Adam Postans