Councillors consider pay rises
COUNCILLORS grappling with an £17m budget black hole will consider next week whether to award themselves inflation busting pay rises of nearly 30%.However, the recommendations from an independent panel, which would add another £200,000 to Suffolk County Council's budget, may be blocked after the leader Jeremy Pembroke said “the timing is not right.
By Graham Dines
COUNCILLORS grappling with an £17m budget black hole will consider next week whether to award themselves inflation busting pay rises of nearly 30%.
However, the recommendations from an independent panel, which would add another £200,000 to Suffolk County Council's budget, may be blocked after the leader Jeremy Pembroke said “the timing is not right.”
Under the proposals, the basic allowance for a county councillor would rise from £7,002 to £9,000, while the Leader of the authority Mr Pembroke would see his additional special responsibility allowance rise from £16,320 to £22,500.
Cabinet holders, who currently receive £7,584 on top of their basic allowance, would be in line for a just under £6,000 increase, Labour opposition leader Bryony Rudkin's responsibility allowance would rise to £11,250 from £8,166, and there would be increases for the Chairman of the Council Jeremy Clover, scrutiny chairmen and the development control chairman.
There would also be a special payment of £4,500 for members of the adoption and fostering panel, a permanent body which meets for long hours dealing with difficult and sometimes harrowing case studies.
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Comparisons with neighbouring counties reveal that Lord Hanningfield, the Leader of Essex, receives a total of £45,000 in allowances while Alison King in Norfolk receives £30,655.
The basic allowances for councillors in Essex is £10,000 with Cabinet members collecting an additional £25,000, while councillors in Norfolk receive £6,569 with Cabinet members paid an extra £12,043.
The recommendations to increase the pay in Suffolk came from a three person independent remuneration panel headed by Dr Alan Lower from Stowmarket, a Liberal Democrat former Chairman of the Council, who is no longer a county councillor. The other panel members were Mrs Penny Austen-Brown and Dr John Hill.
Their report says: “The roles of Leader of the Council and portfolio holder are already full-time posts and so could not be combined with full-time employment elsewhere and it could be difficult to maintain part-time employment and fulfil the role properly.”
The panel adds: “If councillors are expected to spend more of their time on council business and to operate to increasingly higher standards, it will be difficult to attract able candidates unless they have independent means, a supportive partner or family, or are able to forego employment and live on allowances for their term of election.”
However, the Leader of the Council indicated the majority Conservative Party group, which holds 44 of the 75 seats, would not support the plans.
Conceding that Tory county councillors cannot be whipped to vote against the recommendation, Mr Pembroke said: “I would encourage all councillors to be mindful of the difficult financial situation we have been placed in following the Government's grant settlement this week.
“When we are looking at a real trade off between the level of council tax increase and the impact on the services, I think it would send the wrong message if councillors vote for large increases in allowances.”
Opposition leader Mrs Rudkin said she could understand the concern of the public that councillors' allowances were recommended for an increase.
She said: “It is like the issue of Members of Parliament - it is always the wrong time to consider an increase.
“These are proposals from an independent panel set up to go into the whole issue of how to reward councillors.
“I will take a final view on how to vote on these issues next week, but I do not think the whole package should be thrown out.
“Those people who serve on the adoption and fostering panel - they have a difficult and time-consuming job.”
IsItFair? council tax campaigner Ces Kerridge, from Earl Soham, said: “A 28% rise in allowances is certainly not justified at a time when council services are under threat.
“The rate of inflation or 5% might be acceptable.”