Councillors and Allowances – That Question Again
Today, at the monthly meeting of Cornwall Council, the emotive subject of allowances raised its head again. This is not the first time this subject has been discussed, but when it has, it turns into a political football with the two principal parties at Cornwall Council trying to out do each one another on being aghast at any mention of allowances being raised.
It may seem like turkeys voting for Christmas, but due to the current rules, Councillors in all parts of the country have to discuss and vote on the allowance they receive as part of their duties. It is a ridiculous situation to continually happen, but until the rules change, there is no other option.
This time the agenda item was slightly different, because the main thrust of today’s debate was on the allowance for the next council in 2013. The current basic allowance is £12,300 and change. This allowance is also subject to Income Tax and National Insurance. At the inception of Cornwall Council the allowance was estimated at being around £18,000. This did not happen, because the figure was worked out on Cornwall Council having 83 members and not 123.
The first part of the recommendation was to form a fully independent review panel (IRP) to look into the various aspects of a Councillors role. It will then present its recommendations as to what it thinks is a reasonable allowance to the council. From my experience of being interviewed by a previous panel, any allowance will factor in at least 1/3 of the role being voluntary and not receiving any payment. After what seemed like a long debate, this part of recommendation was passed by a large majority of those present.
The second part, and the more controversial element was to ask the IRP to look at the current Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) and report back to the council in March. This fast-tracked review would primarily looked into the SRA of the Cabinet Support Member (CSM). Currently this position does not receive any SRA. However, this subject has been discussed before, and rejected by the council. Many today felt this fast-track review was another attempt to get this SRA through.
Points were made that this SRA should be included in the main review. Other points were raised that while staff are being given pay-freezes it would be wrong to award a potentially large allowance while others were being asked to tighten their belts. More points were raised that the current CSM’s do a great job and should receive a SRA.
I can sympathise with the last point, and feel if the role of CSM was better thought out, and not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent ‘problems’ within the Conservative Group, things might have been different. After all, two years again the idea of CSM’s was firmly rejected by the Leader of Cornwall Council. Again, after a long debate, a recorded vote was taken resulting in this part of the recommendation being rejected by 57 against, 45 for, with 3 abstaining.
The third and last part of the recommendation was to send a letter to the Local Government Association (LGA) setting the case that the Councillors allowance be independently determined which in turn is binding on the council and for the Government to change the law to enable such a procedure to be introduced in England and Wales.
I believe the LGA should and must do this because the same issue that Cornwall Council face on Councillors allowance is replicated up and down the country. With the LGA setting the allowance, it would stop the political and at times petty point scoring when it comes to allowances. It would also stop Councillors having to vote on this subject which I believe would be better for the publics viewpoint. After a shorter debate than the previous two points a vote was taken, and it was passed to send a letter to the LGA.
What do you think is a reasonable allowance that encourages all parts of society to become Councillors, and not face a financial penalty in doing so? You only got to look at the current make-up of Cornwall Councillors to see it is largely made up of the more ‘older’ members of society.
I believe a good council is made up of Councillors from all walks of life, age and ethnicity. After all, that is a truer representations of Cornwall.