One in five local council bosses is expected to quit if the Conservatives win the next election and push ahead with plans to cut executive pay.
Council chief executives are already thought to be leaving their posts following criticisms from political parties of their £200,000-plus salaries and generous pension schemes.
David Clark, director-general of Solace, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, said the rate of departures would accelerate next year because of uncertainty about pay and benefits under a new government.
He predicted that 80 of the present 400 chiefs would go by next Christmas.
Clark told the Times: “I would anticipate a 20% turnover in the 12 months from now. A lot of people are saying they will not stick with the job.
“The decision of several chief executives in October to step down seems to have triggered further departures. A few chief execs may go to other jobs in local government, but most will retire or go on to work outside [the public sector] in the next 12 months.”
Local authority chiefs believe the Conservatives would try to cap pay at £150,000, which would result in a substantial cut for some chief executives if they changed jobs.
The average pay for chief executives across all councils is £141,000, but those running county councils earn an average of £180,000. Many council chiefs in London earn £200,000 or more.
Council bosses who have already announced that they intend to quit include Paul Rogerson, chief executive of Leeds City Council, John Schultz of Stockport and Byron Davies of Cardiff.