Suffolk: Leaders find council work a full-time role

Council leaders have defended the allowances paid to members.

Council leaders have defended the allowances paid to members. - Credit: Archant

Council leaders across Suffolk all agree on one thing – their role at the head of the authority takes up as much time as many full-time jobs.

Ray Herring of Suffolk Coastal gets the highest allowance of any district or borough council leader in the county, just over £16,000, and said the job was a full-time commitment.

He said: “We have our allowances set by an independent body who looks at all aspects of the role and finds out how much time we have to devote to it.

“I do at least 40 hours a week – but in practice it is a lot more. It’s the kind of job where you are never off duty.

“You can be called at any hour of the day and at weekends – it’s something we accept but the money we get in allowances in no way compensates for this.”

When expenses, which can only be claimed with receipts, are taken into account the council leader who cost his voters most in Suffolk was St Edmundsbury’s John Griffiths.

He agreed with Mr Herring that the allowances were scant reward for the long hours associated with the job.

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He said: “I work 40-50 hours a week as council leader. If you sit down and calculate that on an hourly basis it works out at about the minimum wage!

“Nobody stands for election for the council for the money they will get from allowances – but it is right that there is a some compensation for the hours of work it requires.”

Ipswich council’s David Ellesmere is the only Labour council leader in Suffolk. When he took on the top job two years ago he had to make a significant financial sacrifice – compensated by his allowance.

“You can’t be council leader alongside a full-time job so I had to go part time. The allowance I get compensates me for that.

“Today I was in (IBC headquarters) Grafton House at 9.30am and I’ll be here until about 7pm this evening – that’s typical several days a week and then there are council meetings on top of that.

“If there wasn’t an allowance to allow you to work like that, there would be a very narrow group of people who were able to take on council work.”

Colin Law at Waveney is an “active retired” council leader, who readily accepts it would not be possible to take on the role if he had a full-time job.

He said: “At Waveney we put up the allowances a few years ago because they were very low. They are still among the lowest in Suffolk (the basic allowance is the lowest).

“The amount of time backbench councillors spend on their work can varies from person to person – but those who represented their voters well have to put in quite a lot of time and effort.”

Derrick Haley, leader of Mid Suffolk council said: “I believe elected members offer a very good and extremely cost effective service to the public they serve.

“Personally as Leader of Mid Suffolk District Council I find that the demands on my time equate to almost a full-time working week.

“In recent years, as economic pressures have mounted on the Council, the need for elected members to consider and develop increasingly complex policy and make tough decisions to keep our local services running, to protect and grow local business and to enhance and develop our communities, has also grown.”

James Waters at Forest Heath felt councillors represented a bargain: “I always say to council members that they represent the best value imaginable for the council taxpayers.

“They do a great deal of work with comparatively little cost compared with senior council officers.”

And Simon Barrett, deputy leader of Babergh, felt that the workload had grown significantly over recent years.

“I have seen how (leader) Jennie (Jenkins) has had to take on a lot more work over the last couple of years. And what people remember is that you have to take a lot of paperwork home every night. It is a time-consuming job.”