Allowance cuts for top councillors rejected by members
Matthew Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: St Albans Council
There will be no allowance cuts for senior councillors on St Albans district council, after a decisive vote on the matter this week.
Opposition groups claimed some members were being paid "way more" than they should be, and called on SADC to halve their allowances.
But at a full council meeting on Wednesday, an amendment that would see payments for lead councillors reduced from £9,551 a year to £5,500 was turned down.
The Liberal Democrat administration said recent changes from a cabinet to a committee system had already saved the council £12,000 in allowances by reducing the number of committees and lead councillors.
The decision on what allowances to pay members of the council is made by an Independent Remuneration Panel, who met five times in 2021 to determine what allowances councillors should be entitled to.
The panel recommended that for the financial year 2021/22 the Special Responsibility Allowance payable to the leader of the council and chair of the policy committee should be £13,670 and the Special Responsibility Allowance payable to other lead councillors should be £9,551.
These are the same amounts as was previously paid to the leader and portfolio holders under the previous system.
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However, during the council meeting Conservative councillors claimed that the new lead councillor roles have less responsibility than portfolio holders, which should be reflected in the pay awarded.
Proposing the motion to reduce Special Responsibility Allowances, Conservative Cllr Julian Daly said the information provided to the panel included figures for allowances for some unitary authorities, which he claimed was “misleading”.
Cllr Daly argued for comparable second-tier authorities, “we are offering lead councillors way more than we should do” and his proposed changes could save the council £20,000. From a list of 12 councils he said were comparable to St Albans, the average Special Responsibility Allowance was around £5,275.
Tory group leader Cllr Mary Maynard added that portfolio holders justified the higher allowance as decision-makers, which isn’t reflected in the new roles.
She said: “Why are we paying the same amount of money for people who are doing a much smaller job, have no responsibility and don’t make decisions?”
Council leader Cllr Chris White dismissed comparisons to other councils as “fag packet economics”, which didn’t take into account each authority’s workload or number of councillors.
Cllr White added that “almost nothing had changed” in regards to the decision making process during the move from portfolio holders to lead councillors,
That point was echoed by Cllr Robert Donald who said lead councillors were “portfolio holders by another name”, saying that when it comes to policy formulation, time spent working, responsibility and decision making, and accountability
He added: “It’s not costing any more this, it’s costing less. I don’t know where Julian [Daly] got his councils from, but if you compare this with portfolio holders – which I do, because it’s the same job – what the allowance we receive is a very reasonable allowance for the job we have to do.”
Two Labour councillors abstained on the vote, with group leader Cllr Katherine Gardner saying she usually supported a rise to avoid excluding those who would otherwise not be able to stand for election, but she couldn’t support the panel’s recommendation. She added the timing “would reflect very badly on us as individuals, and particularly badly on us as politicians”.
The amendment failed by a majority of five, with 24 voting to reduce the pay for lead councillors and 29 voting in favour of the panel’s recommendation.
As part of the panel’s report further review on the scheme will be undertaken during the 2022/23 financial year to reflect the changes to the council and to assess the effectiveness of the new arrangements.