THE number of council managers earning more than £50,000 a year has soared in three years, according to official figures.

Local authorities across Dorset and the New Forest now have 261 senior council officers earning more than £50,000 a year – with a combined wage bill of approximately £17million.

However, councils point out that this is largely due to an equal pay review, which has seen many staff benefit from backdated increases, while employees whose wages have fallen benefitted from a period of protection.

Bournemouth now spends around £6m on the salaries of 93 council officers earning more than £50,000. That’s a rise of 50 per cent from 2008/9 when there were just 62.

Poole has 62 officers earning more than £50,000 – a rise of 67 per cent from 2008/9’s figure of 37. The council’s wage bill for those high earners went up from around £2.5million to £4million.

Dorset County Council now spends approximately £2.5m on 30 employees earning between £50,022 and £147,875.

David Higgins, branch secretary for Bourne-mouth Unison, said: “It’s a concern, particularly for all the staff who have had their wages frozen.”

Cllr Mark Howell, leader of Poole People’s Party, said: “It’s an unhealthy dynamic.

“We need to be recruiting people to the council on the basis they are committed to public service, not increasing their pay packet.”

Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns said: “These figures are valuable and if people feel they are unreasonable they will find a way of making their views known.

“I think people’s ultimate judgement is – is the council providing the level of service that we need and is council tax going up? And I know in Bournemouth we’ve had a freeze.”

Cllr John Beesley, deputy leader of Bournemouth council, said employee numbers were reducing due to natural wastage and posts remaining vacant and added: “We were behind other councils in completing our equal pay review and that has meant that a lot of people have received back payments and are temporarily in a higher wage band than normal.”

Poole council’s head of resources Carl Wilcox said: “Poole’s senior officers are paid less by comparison to most other local authorities. “The figure in 2008/09 is misleadingly low, as several senior posts at that time were temporarily filled by agency staff.

“The true figure of staff who were paid over £50,000 in 2010/11 is 54.”

John Sprackling, chairman of the Branksome Park, Canford Cliffs and District Residents’ Association, said he accepted Poole council’s explanation for the rise.

But he added: “Despite paying these high salaries of council officers to do the job, I am concerned that the council is still resorting to the use of so many consultants.”

The figures in full

Councils told us how many staff earned more than £50,000, more than £60,000, more than £70,000 etc.

We have used the mid-point of these bandings to calculate an approximate combined wage bill.

Bournemouth: 93 officers earning a total of around £6m. Chief executive salary £125,481.

Poole: 62 officers earning a total of around £3.99m. Chief executive salary is a maximum of £124,951.

Dorset: 65 officers earning a total of around £4.35m. Chief executive salary £147,875.

Christchurch and East Dorset: Nine officers earning a total of around £655,000. Joint chief executive salary is between £110,000 and £120,000.

North Dorset: Four officers earning a total of around £292,000. Chief executive band is £82,360 to £91,871.

New Forest: 27 officers earning around £1.74m. Chief executive earns more than £100,000

PURBECK: Chief executive is the only officer who earns more than £50,000. Their salary band is between £72,000 and £77,000.