COUNCILS in Dorset have been criticised for cutting back on services and increasing tax bills rather than reducing the pay and pensions of senior officers.

Dozens of council employees were given remuneration packages of more than £100,000 in 2017/18, the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s annual report has found.

And Its chief executive has said the figures “raise serious questions” about local authorities’ efficiency and priorities.

Sixteen Dorset County Council employees received six-figure packages – the most in the South West – with its now former chief executive Debbie Ward receiving a £188,000 package. The alliance, which campaigns for lower taxes, has published senior local authority officers’ packages in its annual Town Hall Rich List.

Nationally more than 2,000 council employees received remuneration packages of at least £100,000 – the highest number since 2013/14.In each of Bournemouth and Poole councils, eight officers exceeded the threshold while 10 officers at the county’s now abolished district councils were paid more than £100,000.

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive John O’Connell said spending had “gone through the roof”. as a result of tax increases over the past two decades.

“Disappointingly, many local authorities are now responding to financial reality through further tax rises and reducing services rather than scaling back top pay,” he said. “Despite many in the public sector facing a much-needed pay freeze to help bring the public finances under control, many town hall bosses are continuing to pocket huge remuneration packages, with staggering pay-outs for those leaving their jobs.”

“There are talented people in the public sector who are trying to deliver more for less, but the sheer scale of these packages raise serious questions about efficiency and priorities.”

The second highest-paid council employee in Dorset was Christchurch and East Dorset partnership’s head of property and engineering Lindsay Cass, although about half came from a compensation package.

Dorset Councils Partnership chief executive Matt Prosser was the third-highest paid council employee receiving a £152,903 package in 2017/18. He has the top job at the new Dorset Council and is paid between £160,000 and £180,000, similar to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council chief Graham Farrant. Jane Portman and Andrew Flockhart, the former top officers at Bournemouth and Poole councils respectively, were paid £147,000 and £140,396. Both have been made redundant as part of local government reorganisation.

Mr Prosser said the merger of the county’s councils has led to a reduction in the number of senior officer positions.

“We have been working hard in the face of ever-reducing funding from government in order to find reductions in costs at the same time as providing a high standard of service to our residents.

“Dorset Council was formed in order to meet the challenge of these cuts head on. The process of replacing six councils with one has involved a reduction in the number of senior officer posts, for example we have reduced the number of chief executives from four to one,” he said. “In total, 23 posts across the predecessor councils has reduced to just seven posts for Dorset Council,” he said. Sorrelle Ford, BCP Council HR business partner, said the salaries set by preceding councils were “comparative” with other public sector bodies.

“By removing duplication and reducing management overheads, we will achieve significant cost reductions.