COUNCILS in the region last night defended the salaries of top officials following criticism it was not being scaled back enough in light of local government cuts.

The North-East’s highest paid town hall boss is Durham County Council chief executive Terry Collins, who takes home an annual salary of £186,850.

Durham, which is the largest unitary authority in the region, paid 13 employees more than £100,000 in 2016/17 – seven fewer than last year.

Head of finance Paul Darby, who said Durham’s pay was in line with that of comparable senior executives, added: “Since 2009 there has been a significant reduction in management across the authority and like all other public sector employees a pay freeze existed up until 2017.

“The number of corporate directors and heads of service has been reduced and the chief executive’s salary cut by £15,000 a year.”

In the North-East the number of officers earning more than £100,000 dropped from 106 to 99.

The Tax Payers’ Alliance, which collates an annual report of town hall pay, said the pay packages raised questions about priority.

Chief executive John O’Connell said: “Disappointingly, many local authorities are now responding to financial reality through further tax rises and reducing services rather than scaling back top pay.”

He added: “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.”

Darlington chief executive Ada Burns, who is due to retire at the end of May, had a salary of £152,227.

Following a review of senior management costs, her role is due to be combined with that of the director of resources – a move aimed at saving £464,000 over the next four years but will cost £200,001 for the early release of Ms Burns’ pension.

Nine officers at Sunderland City Council were paid more than £100,000, including the director of commercial development, who had the region’s largest remuneration package – worth £276,247 – once extra payments are taken into account.

A Sunderland City Council spokesman said: “The city council is responsible for delivering hundreds of services, and because of these major social and legal responsibilities, senior salaries, including pensions and benefits, can reflect this.”

Darlington Borough Council declined to comment.

Hartlepool chief executive Gill Alexander has a salary of £143,083, while Newcastle’s Patricia Ritchie takes home £175,962 and Stockton’s Neil Schneider gets £166,843.