Essex: Expenses row over dual-role councillors

COUNCILLORS have been criticised for rejecting a bid to cap the allowances they can receive if they sit on two Essex authorities - which can top �40,000 a year.

A row over the amount of money paid to councillors who are elected to both Essex County Council and a district authority erupted at a full meeting of Braintree District Council on Wednesday.

James Abbott, a Braintree councillor for the Green Party, proposed that expenses for councillors sitting on both authorities are capped at �27,000 a year – the average full-time wage for males in the south east.

“Given the severe financial restraint being imposed by the Government, we should be doing everything we can to find savings whilst protecting frontline services,” said Cllr Abbott.

All Essex County Councillors receive a basic allowance of �11,500 and members of Braintree District Council receive a basic of �4,434.

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Added to this, both authorities will pay a special responsibility allowance to members in particular positions such as group leaders, cabinet members and committee chairmen.

This means that some dual councillors are eligible to claim more than �40,000 a year plus other expenses such as travel.

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Cllr Abbott said that his proposal would save about �50,000 a year which could be used to protect under-threat services such as the walks programme which encourages exercise.

“We believe that it is unreasonable for councillors to be able to claim in excess of �40,000 a year from taxpayers whilst services are under threat and households are struggling,” he said.

“Even with a cap of �27,000, that is still well in excess of what many people in this district earn for a full time job.”

Leader of Braintree District Council, Graham Butland, who also sits on Essex County Council, said that allowances for Braintree councillors had been frozen for two years and the number of councillors was going to be reduced from 60 to 40.

“The general idea of capping allowances is not without merit, but Cllr Abbott’s proposal was hastily put together and probably not even legal,” he said.

“We have to have fair allowances for councillors or it will restrict public service to the rich and exclude anyone on low income or benefits.”

Cllr Abbott’s proposal was voted down.

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