Saturday, November 04, 2006

Council jobs

This one is rumbling on.

Iron Angle in the Post yesterday had an Iron Angle piece from Paul Dale, where he told us that the street lighting DLO operation employed 51 people and had a wage bill of £2 million a year. Paul reckons that this equates to an average salary of £40k, give or take. Now, I haven't seen the figures that Mr Dale has - some of us don't get cabinet members to show us their spreadsheets and Paul might find the lawyers asking him some questions - but I'd guess that the £2 million figure is the budget line figure and that it will include the 'on costs.' You see, employers aren't just lumbered with paying the contracted wage and bonus costs, but also their National Insurance and pension contributions - the bits that you don't see on your wage slip. I think that the figure of around 24% covers both of those, so that suggests that the average gross wage (including bonuses and overtime payments) for the workers in street lighting is somewhat closer to £30k a year. As this will include specialist technicians and managers, that's a whole lot more sensible - and backs up the argument that the bloke on £90k a year is a very much the exception.

Am I going to defend these anomalous payments? Not a bit of it. But...

These guys don't just handle street lighting - they also look after traffic lights. Anyone who has seen Birmingham city centre knows just how little it takes to gridlock the traffic network. Keeping the traffic management system functioning is a core role for the city council - plunging the city into gridlock costs millions of pounds in lost productivity and damages our reputation as an international city. It is common in the private sector that if you have a mission-critical system, then the people who look after it are paid VERY well, but they are expected to keep it functioning whatever the cost and whatever the time involved. In a previous life, I worked for a company reliant on a few centrally located servers to keep the retail business and the systems technicians were earning six figure salaries - well out of kilter with their managers. The payments were huge, but the cost of having the system fail would have such a huge commercial impact that it made these wages costs insignificant.

What angers me is that this process is being used to railroad through more wholesale changes to the pay and conditions of all City workers. This is a particularly nasty campaign being waged by the Tories and Liberal Democrats running our council and it might be about to backfire severely. Either Amicus will launch court action against the council or the threat to the safety of the workforce will require the council to withdraw them from the streets.

The council has apparently launched a 'leak enquiry.' It shouldn't take long - just ask around the cabinet.

Brilliantly handled, Cllr Rudge.

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