BURY Council’s finance chief has defended packages paid to top town hall officers after they were the subject of a blistering attack from a firebrand committee member.

Tory councillor Nick Jones launched what appeared to be a broadside at the remuneration of the new chief executive Geoff Little OBE and other senior directors at a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee.

But Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, executive cabinet member for finance and housing, mounted a staunch defence of the council’s recruitment strategy and hit back at the Pilkington Park ward councillor over his party’s austerity programme.

Cllr Jones, who was elected to the council in May, questioned why big salaries and pensions were being paid to new bosses, while the authority was under huge budgetary pressure and forecasting a £3.1m overspend by the end of this financial year.

He said: “Over the summer we have employed three or four top executives, and I dread to think what their total package is. Not just their yearly salary, but their pensions, which will be way more than the Prime Minister.

“ If there is so much pressure on our finances and we have got no money, libraries are shutting, how can we afford to pay all these top executives?

“I think soon we will become a council with too many chiefs and no one to do the work.”

Cllr O’Brien said the council had previously taken the approach of cutting its top team and merging departments to save on management costs but added: “The problem there is that you do lose a lot of capacity to make the big transformational changes, but also the big agenda on growth as well.”

“The people we have hired over the summer have built the capacity around growth and transformation. Of course it comes at a cost but if we get the transformation and growth right the return will far outweigh the cost of those salaries.”

He told the meeting that Mr Little, previously with Manchester City Council, had “huge experience” which would be invaluable in the authority’s continuing “transformation” including work to integrate health and social care.

And he added: “So, yes, there have been some boosts to the senior leadership team but that has been to build the capacity to make the changes we need to make, or the council will not survive overall.

“We have already lost a significant number of frontline staff and this emboldened senior leadership team will protect the remaining staff, rather than come as a detriment to them."

Cllr Jones renewed his attack saying that the people of Bury were being told they could not have their bins emptied on weekly basis while the executive pension contributions would likely be more than the average resident’s salary.

But Cllr O’Brien said it was the Conservative government’s austerity agenda — which will have imposed £100m of budget cuts on Bury by 2020 — that had made it necessary to radically change the way the council operates.

Addressing Cllr Jones, he said: “I don’t think that, on the one had you can support the systematic under-funding and stripping out of assets from local authorities and then criticise when services are having to change and people are having to accept less while paying more."