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It’s official – the West Midlands has the cheapo mayor

It’s official – the West Midlands has the cheapo mayor

🕔16.Aug 2017

Assiduous Files followers may possibly recall the meticulous approach adopted to the determination of the salary to be paid to the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) elected Mayor…the detailed listing of tasks and responsibilities, the extensive comparisons with elected mayors in other countries and systems, etc., writes Chris Game.

Or perhaps, since there was in fact nothing remotely rational about the whole business, they won’t.

The opening bid had been made back in June 2016, in the form of a cautious, or comical, £30 – 40,000 p.a. proposal from a committee assembled by the Clerk of the WMCA, Keith Ireland.

As the editor subsequently noted, even the council leaders who’d reluctantly accepted that an elected mayor was the then Government’s fixed price for any half-decent devolution deal “realised that figure did not send the right signal about the importance of the new office or the WMCA”.

So, with the first arbitrary number dismissed as unacceptable, the obvious next arbitrary move was to triple it, to the £100 – 140,000 p.a. that Communities Secretary Sajid Javid was believed to have in mind.

Coming as it did during the Mayoral election campaign, this led to much excitement, with outsider candidates fighting to outbid each other over the proportion of the salary they’d forfeit, in the inconceivable event of their being elected.

Whereupon Conservative candidate Andy Street, familiar with salaries of some ten times even the highest being mentioned, pledged to become “the UK’s first ‘payment by results’ political leader, if elected”.

In an apparently back-of-an-envelope policy offer, he proposed his Mayoral pay be determined by his and the WMCA’s performance against key Mayoral targets like job creation and economic growth, social indicators like workforce qualification levels, and anything else he or we would care to throw into the mix.

It wasn’t his finest hour, and, quite apart from the idea’s practicality or otherwise, it sounded, as Lib Dem mayoral candidate Beverley Nielsen observed, like “gesture politics”.

Any outside observers must have found the whole thing as unseemly as it was irrational – and were doubtless unsurprised when the answer turned out a few weeks later to comprise splitting the difference between the two extreme sets of figures discussed – at an equally arbitrary but precise-sounding £79,000.

And we now know how that stacks up against the salaries of the other CA mayors elected back in May.

The Local Government Chronicle’s Mark Smulian pulled together the figures in the table below, and in an article headed “Pay analysis reveals ‘cheapest’ CA mayor” suggests that the answer, if the mayor’s annual wage is divided by the size of the population they serve, is – wait for it – West Midlands’ Andy Street.

The emphasis on the calculation formula is obviously important. Street’s is far from the lowest salary, but you’d hardly expect it to be, and it’s nearly a third lower than Andy Burnham’s in slightly less populous Greater Manchester.

It’s also barely half that of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, but nearly 20% more than Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy’s combined basic and special responsibility allowances of about £66,000.

Council leaders’ allowances and chief executives’ salaries are sometimes compared using their council budgets as measures, but it’s not possible here, as we’ve no real idea what those budgets will turn out to be.

We know the WMCA’s Investment Fund Grant – £36.5 million p.a. – and the various transport grants – around £56 million p.a.  But we’ve no idea of the mayor’s council tax precept, the Government’s plans for business rate retention, or a host of other stuff.  At present, therefore, population is about as good a measure as we’ve got.

And it means that so far, just over 100 days in, our Metro Mayor has cost us almost exactly 1p each – rising by next May to getting on for 3p each.  Which is at least something against which to stack the various claims and critiques with which we’ve been presented over the past few days.

One of the most striking features of the LGC table are the contrasting patterns it presents in the remuneration of Mayors and chief executives. Mayoral salaries have a range of over 300%, though significantly less when measured against their Combined Authority populations.

CEOs are the reverse: a salary range of under 40%, but, in terms of cost per head of population, getting on for 300% – with the West Midlands’ Deborah Cadman, though to date the highest paid, again coming out ‘cheapest’ when measured against the Authority’s population.

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