A DECISION to award pay rises of up to 34 per cent to senior city council managers during the economic downturn has been condemned as “a kick in the teeth”.

Details of the inflation-busting pay hikes were released by Oxford City Council within hours of Chancellor George Osbourne announcing a two-year pay freeze for all public sector workers.

The rises were agreed in April 2009 following independent advice, and became effective the same month.

Rank-and-file council staff were handed a 1.5 per cent increase at the same time, and the rises took the number of council employees earning more than £50,000 from 20 to 31.

The council said senior staff received no pay rise this April.

However, last night there was growing anger over the pay hikes, which included an 11.6 per cent rise for chief executive Peter Sloman, a 15.4 per cent rise for director of city regeneration Mel Barrett, and a 28.1 per cent rise for the director of city services Tim Sadler.

The total salary for the chief financial officer post, a job shared between Sarah Fogden and Penny Gardner, rose 34.6 per cent, although this position has now been filled by one different person.

The increase took Mr Sloman’s salary to £141,031, not far off the Prime Minister’s wage of £142,500.

The pay rises were agreed as the council was making significant cuts to its budget, including cutting staff, struggling with a financial multi-million-pound black hole and signing off a 4.5 per cent rise in council tax.

The city council’s branch secretary of the union Unison, Caroline Glendinning, said: “This comes as a kick in the teeth for all council workers.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “I understand these increases were independently reviewed, but they are way above what lower level staff and the vast majority of council taxpayers have got.

“The council needs to take a hard look at keeping things fairer, especially with all the pressure for cuts in services.

“It’s wrong when there appears to be one rule for those at the top and another for those at the bottom.”

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood said: “At a time when so many people were struggling to keep their jobs and it was becoming clear that there would need to be tough decisions on public spending to clean up Labour’s economic failure, it really doesn’t seem right that these pay rises were awarded.

“People have a right to know that their hard-earned taxes are being spent wisely and I am glad that David Cameron has made it clear that top public sector salaries need to be justified in future.”

City council leader Bob Price said the increases reflected the quality of the individuals’ work.

He added: “These are not jobs that are easy, they are 24-hour-a-day jobs.

“This was a decision made in the early part of 2009 in a different economic situation and set in the context of significant improvements in council services.

“It’s not a decision that reflects today’s climate.”

Mr Sloman said the pay awards were justified as the senior management team had “turned around the council’s performance”.

He continued: “In terms of my own salary, it was important to me that it was assessed independently.

“I understand there will be many different points of view.”

Simon Howick, the council’s head of human resources, said: “The management team has proved its worth by reducing costs within the council by 28 per cent since they were brought together 30 months ago and they have improved performance in 75 per cent of the service areas measured.

“We need to offer salaries comparable to other public sector bodies if we are to retain a top team able to manage the council effectively.”