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Council leaders bypass austerity as West Mids gets fourth £100k transport chief

Council leaders bypass austerity as West Mids gets fourth £100k transport chief

🕔17.Nov 2014

The appointment of a strategic director by the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority means that two public bodies responsible for delivering the region’s transport vision now have four officials earning £100,000-plus and 32 paid between £50,000 and £85,000, writes Paul Dale.

This is the era of public sector entrenchment, the end of local government as we know it even, but there is one area of expenditure that appears to have escaped the most savage spending cuts.

Last week, in a little noticed announcement, the newly formed West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority confirmed it had appointed Laura Shoaf as its strategic director for transportation.

A press release did not mention the salary to be paid to Ms Shoaf, currently Black Country Director of Transport, but WMITA has confirmed that the post was advertised at £100,000.

This means two public sector bodies responsible for transport in the West Midlands – WMITA and Centro – now have four officials whose total salary packages exceed £100,000.

This is the latest iteration in a complex and expensive web of regional transport administration.

Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, is responsible for delivering the policies drawn up by WMITA. Geoff Inskip has been Centro chief executive since 2006. His salary is £155,000 and his total remuneration package last year was £172,000 when pension contributions are taken into account.

Two other Centro managers enjoyed a £100,000-plus remuneration package in 2013-14. They are the finance director and the customer experience director.

The post of Centro’s £96,000-a-year corporate services director disappeared last year in a cost-cutting restructure. The post-holder left with a £315,000 pay-off comprising of a £110,000 compensation deal plus £109,000 in additional pension contributions, according to Centro’s annual accounts.

Centro continues to employ six officials earning between £70,000 and £85,000 and 26 officials earning between £50,000 and £70,000.

Discovering who is responsible for administering public transport across the West Midlands has not been an easy experience since the abolition of the West Midlands County Council in 1985.

The county’s transport function was replaced by a new joint board – the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority – consisting of councillors from the seven metropolitan authorities. The West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive sat alongside and consisted of the officials tasked with implementing WMPTA’s policies.

WMPTE became Network West Midlands and was given the corporate name Centro. In 2006, WMPTA and Centro merged into a single entity. But disquiet about Centro’s performance under the leadership of 27 largely backbench councillors led earlier this year to the formation of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority – a strategic executive board consisting of the seven council leaders.

WMITA is responsible for transport strategy, allocating Centro’s budgets, scheme prioritisation and bids to the Government for funding. It is chaired by Wolverhampton City Council leader Roger Lawrence.

The change will ensure the metropolitan area acts in a unified way on transport and can punch its collective weight when seeking funding for rail, tram and road schemes that can grow the economy, according to Cllr Lawrence.

The integrated transport authority also has the task of creating a direct link with the region’s three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – Greater Birmingham & Solihull, the Black Country and Coventry & Warwickshire – and may eventually become part of the planned Birmingham and the Black Country Combined Authority.

Last week, Birmingham City Council launched its transport white paper under the new name of Birmingham Connected (formerly the Birmingham Mobility Action Plan). The 20 year vision will require a £4 billion budget, but a funding strategy is not yet in place. 

Meanwhile, Centro, with a budget approaching £200 million, continues to be run by 27 councillors. Efforts to simply replace the 27 with the seven council leaders were dropped when it became clear that the backbenchers would not take kindly to losing the special responsibility allowances they are paid for attending Centro meetings, on top of the allowances they receive for their council duties.

Centro’s activities include:

  • Subsidising socially necessary bus, train and tram services.
  • Providing public transport street furniture, bus stops and shelters, passenger information and bus stations.
  • Administration of concessionary fares, and funding the Ring-and-Ride door to door service for elderly and disabled people.
  • Operating multi-operator travel pass arrangements.
  • Planning facilities and improvements, such as railway stations, park and ride, bus lanes, and the midland metro tram system.

Ms Shoaf said her new role as WMITA strategic director presented a “unique opportunity” to drive further transport investment into the region “to help us realise our collective economic aspirations”.

Cllr Roger Lawrence said: “Transportation is the lifeblood of the West Midlands economy; it doesn’t stop at municipal boundaries and so a strategic approach is essential.

“Laura brings with her a wealth of experience gained from her role as Director of Transport for the Black Country and has a deep understanding of the importance that a more efficient, more effective and more reliable transport network will have for the economic growth.”

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