Councillors set to approve 53% allowance increase at East Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 16:30 16 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:44 16 January 2020
Picture: RIDUNA HOLDINGS
Councillors at a Suffolk authority are set to agree a rise of more than £2,600 in their allowances next week - an increase of more than 50%.
An independent panel has returned with recommendations to increase the basic allowance for all East Suffolk councillors up to £7,500 per year - £2,616.60 more than the current allowance of £4,883.40.
According to the panel's report, "the workload for members had increased significantly - double in most cases - the role had been redefined and could not be viewed as part time".
It added that in some cases members were also having to travel more, including round trips of three or four hours, which also needed to be factored in.
The matter will be debated at the authority's full council meeting next week but Conservative council leader Steve Gallant has defended the 53% increase.
He said it reflected the roles, responsibilities and workload of councillors in 2020.
"They have reached their conclusions having considered a range of criteria to establish the fairness and merit of the payments which councillors currently receive," he said.
"Following the creation of the new council to replace Suffolk Coastal and Waveney - and the overall reduction in councillors from 90 to 55 - the panel established that councillors now have far greater responsibility; representing considerably more residents, businesses and community groups as well as a far larger geographical area.
"However, even if this recommendation is now approved, the overall cost of member allowances will still actually have been reduced when compared to Suffolk Coastal and Waveney.
"The total cost of the proposed basic allowance amounts to an overall saving of over £112,000 per year, compared to the payments previously made to members.
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"Meanwhile, overall, member allowances is only a tiny fraction of the council's total budget, with payments to councillors representing only around 2% of our net spend on critical local services that our communities want and need.
"The panel also recognised that allowances for East Suffolk councillors have been historically low and, in comparison to other councils in Norfolk and Suffolk, our members cost the taxpayer less than anyone else in the region.
"Even with this proposed increase, the individual cost to East Suffolk taxpayers will still be lower than eight of the other 11 councils in the two counties.
"It is also worth remembering that, unlike a Member of Parliament, for example, payments to councillors do not represent a full time salary. However, councillors still work very long hours and councils need to attract more and different people to the role, who may otherwise be put off because of financial concerns.
"The panel has recognised this issue and are recommending that the council investigate ways to attract people from different backgrounds, with a wide range of skills, to the role."
When Babergh District Council increased its basic allowance by 25% in 2018, it prompted a public backlash as taxpayers could only expect pay rises in line with inflation in their jobs.
While councillor allowances are not technically pay, they are remuneration for the role they carry out as elected members.
As well as the increase in basic allowances, the leader of the council's role will see a £4,000 increase, the deputy leader nearly £3,000 and cabinet members nearly £1,600.
Graham Elliott, leader of the East Suffolk Green group recognised the challenges of encouraging people from all walks of life to stand as councillors, but said the decision should have been made before the formation of the new council in April 2019.
He said: "We need to recruit a more diverse and representative range of people into councillor roles and it is important that the remuneration is more attractive. "I have found it hard to recruit younger people, people with families and working people and the main reason is that the role of a councillor is substantial, and the financial rewards are often insufficient for these people to take on the commitment.
"But the decision to raise allowances should have been taken prior to the creation of the new council and, critically, prior to the election at which we should have been seeking to attract a greater diversity of candidates."