Cambridgeshire County Council accused of trying to hide report on councillor allowances as call is made to postpone decision for wider consultation
PUBLISHED: 15:02 17 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:40 17 July 2017
A Wisbech man – who sat on a previous independent panel considering the allowances paid to county councillors – claims the latest report to be voted on tomorrow has been poorly publicised.
Bob Smith said today “the openness of this whole process is highly questionable”.
He has written to the three Conservative county councillors in Wisbech expressing his “real concerns about the lack of transparency in the way the latest report, which you debate tomorrow, has been published and consulted on, as well as its conclusions”.
Mr Smith said: “If you agree the implementation of the report you will be voting for an over eight per cent increase for yourselves, and you will also be voting for around an additional three per cent increase for the next four years. At a time central government is seemingly insisting that local government workers should continue to get no more than one per cent I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
He said extra increases proposed for the leader “are completely over the top and using the new combined authority is fallacious particularly as allowances are not meant to be paid for combined authority work.” The report recommends a £4,000 a year rise for leader Steve Count to compensate for extra duties involved with the combined authority.
Mr Smith said: “The openness of this whole process is highly questionable. The report has not been publicly published. You have to dig around on the county council website to find it as an appendix to the agenda for tomorrow.
“I doubt there are many councillors who have had time to read the report and its appendices and even fewer who fully understand the background and history.”
He added: “With this in mind can I urge you to delay consideration of the report until it has been widely publicised and you have had an opportunity to take soundings from the public who elected you. If that is not possible can I urge you to reject the entire report.
“There is a precedent for this as the last report the committee I was a member of was rejected as it recommended a similar one off increase to basic allowances to reflect what was the new committee system and extra workload for councillors.
“It is worth noting that our report was fully costed and would have meant the overall budget would have been reduced. The recommendations you vote on tomorrow do not seem to have a full costing attached (I may have missed it) but the implication is a significant increase in the overall allowances budget.”
A council press release said the panel reviewing allowances following the May elections, heard evidence from councillors of all political groups, and considered information drawn from councils across the UK “however said they could draw little benchmarking evidence from this.
“The panel also recognised that backbench members also faced increased demands in a committee system, as is operated by Cambridgeshire County Council.”
The panel is recognising the extra work load and recommending a rise in the basic allowance paid to all elected Members from £7,933.32 per annum to £8,600 per annum, which they say is 22 per cent below the present average £10,500 paid to county councillors in two tier authorities across England.
It also recommends a slight increase in the payment made to leaders of political groups or committee chairs, but a decrease in that paid to their deputies.
The press release said the panel agreed that the current rate of basic allowance is too low and was not at a level that would allow councillors to make the time commitment required in order to fulfil their roles effectively, particularly now there are fewer councillors, larger electoral divisions and rapidly increasing populations within many divisions.
The independent panel looking into members allowances comprised
Nicky Blanning, Head of the Accommodation Service at the University of Cambridge,
Professor Alan Rodger. Retired Director of the British Antarctic Survey with 30 years’ experience leading national and international science organisations,
Colin Wiles, a consultant providing services to housing associations and other similar bodies and previously Chief Executive of the King Street Housing Society.
They were assisted by Paul Hanson, Democratic Services Manager from Northamptonshire County Council.
Recommendations in brief:
To rise from - £7,933.32 pa. to £8,600 per annum for 2017-18.
Changes to individual special responsibility allowances
An increase in the allowance for Leader of the largest group on the council from just over £21k to £25k. This recommendation is made to reflect that the Leader of the largest group is also, as part of the Council’s constitution, the Chair of the General Purposes Committee and the Leader of the Council. The Leader now also has to hold a portfolio holder position within the new Combined Authority – which pays no allowances to any elected member.
The panel recommended a small increase for other political group leaders SRAs and for committee chairs, but a slight decrease for deputies.
Where a councillor who receives a special responsibility allowance fails to attend at least 50% of the meetings for which that allowance is paid in any six month period, they will be asked to repay part of the money they are paid.
*2016/17 Members allowance budget was £836.316. This recommendation would see the budget reduce to £751,500
A council spokesman tweeted that the report “was not very hidden John. It’s been on our website since last Monday and we sent you and your editorial teams a press release on that day too”.