Are there too many middle managers?

Eric Pickles's latest move to improve transparency about the cost of local government is to publish a code of practice encouraging councils to provide the names and job descriptions for anyone being paid £58,000 a year. There are lots of problems and issues with this (sufficient to mean that the Civil Service has already backed away from a similar proposal). Clearly it is founded in the notion that  there are too many middle managers and exposing their "non-jobs" will result in the posts being abolished. Also, as an aside, I suspect that when county and metropolitan councils publish data about staff being paid over £58,000 a significant number will be not be middle managers but school headteachers and deputies and senior police officers, all of whom, technically, are employed by local authorities. Indeed, it is not unheard of for the highest paid employee of a council to be a headteacher rather than the chief executive.

How can anyone know how many middle managers is too many? Each council has its own way of operating and, therefore, its own requirements for senior and middle managers. Robert Winnett's conclusion in this article in the Daily Telegraph, that, "Over the past decade, the number of council middle managers has risen eleven-fold" is not sound. What has changed since 1997 is the number of people earning above £50,000 . As pay has increased annually, middle managers earning less than £50,000 in 1997 would now be paid more and thus be included in the figures. It is conceivable (though perhaps it is unlikely) that there are fewer middle managers now than there were in 1997. No-one can deduce what the true picture is from the data disclosed in council annual reports.

If councils do accede to Pickles's code of practice (I would like to see some councils stand up against his bullying and inconsistent messages) then I expect that every individual who is to be named for earning £58,000 or more, will demand that their job description is fully up-to-date before it is  published. It will be just like the process of job evaluation where the manager will have the incentive to expand every bullet point and to emphasise the strategic importance of the decisions that they make. All of this will, of course, be dull, boring and practically unreadable. So, whilst the average resident might be interested to know how much so-and-so who lives down the road was paid they are unlikely to look at the justification. Similarly, journalists on local newspapers might publish the data (one hopes without the kinds of flawed logic displayed by Robert Winnett) they are unlikely to undertake any analysis of job descriptions.

Finally, if transparency about public money is so important, why is only Eric Pickles pushing for it? As mentioned above, the Civil Service has decided that the appropriate threshold for publication is £150,000 a year. And I am not aware of NHS organizations being "encouraged" to provide details of the payments to doctors and other health professionals as well as middle managers but, then, I imagine Andrew Lansley has enough on his plate convincing GPs to take on £80 billion of commissioning work (the sort of thing done by middle managers) that insisting on full disclosure of their pay would be a tactical mistake.