Exclusive: The Yorkshire council chief executives earning thousands of pounds a year for election roles

Council chief executives are earning thousands on top of their normal salaries by taking on returning officer roles.
Council chief executives are earning thousands on top of their normal salaries by taking on returning officer roles.

HIGHLY-paid council chief executives in Yorkshire have received as much as £65,000 on top of their annual salaries for administering elections, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

An investigation into payments received by returning officers has found several of the region’s most senior public officials have received far more than the amounts routinely disclosed in council accounts.

Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan received £65,567 in 2016/17 on top of his salary package of £204,344 and a further £27,710 in 2017/18.

Joanne Roney received a total of £37,577 in 2016/17 on top of her salary package of £214,133 as then-Wakefield Council chief executive.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance said the amounts were “unjustifiable” and called on the government to reform the system of payments to returning officers.

John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “Many taxpayers will be bemused as to why council bosses already earning a high salary are given thousands of pounds for carrying out duties during work hours.

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“These payments are simply unjustifiable when hard pressed families and businesses are facing an ever increasing tax burden. The Government needs to look into reforming the system to make it fairer to taxpayers so that their hard-earned money can be spent on essential services instead.”

Currently payments for national polls, including general elections and referenda, and police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections are made separately by the government, through the Cabinet Office, while payments for local elections fall on local councils.

Only a small number of councils in Yorkshire include the payments in their annual accounts.

The Cabinet Office declined to comment on whether the payments were justified but did advise councils should not include payments for national polls in their accounts as they were paid directly to returning officers who were acting independently from their council role.

A Leeds Council spokesman said: “Leeds City Council, unlike many other local authorities, does not pay its returning officer additional fees for running local elections. Our chief executive has been successfully overseeing the electoral systems of the second-biggest council in the country, with its complex planning and management of the process to elect 99 councillors, for no extra pay.

“However, when it comes to general elections, referendums and regional elections, Tom has no say in the setting of a fee, which is paid at national level and set by the Cabinet Office. Its level is based on how many people are eligible to vote in the area.

“The role of returning officer is entirely separate from Tom’s role with the council and he carries out the legislative duties in addition to his substantive post.”

Bradford Council is one of the few local authorities in the region which publishes payments made to Returning Officers.

Its chief executive Kersten England received a total of £30,972 in 2016/17 on top of her salary package of £205,368 with a further £14,564 on top of £213,925 last year.

The payments included employer pension contributions of £3,822 and £2,169 respectively. Ms England did not receive any payment for local elections.

A spokesman for the council said it was an authority ‘committed to providing clarity in relation to payments made to Returning Officers.’