How much is a councillor's work worth?
Allowances for members of Lancashire County Council will be frozen for the next twelve months - but calls by a handful of councillors for them to be cut were rejected.
The authority voted to forego the annual two percent rise in the basic rate of £10,675 paid to all county councillors and also to scrap payments made for meals.
But a suggestion by two independent members that councillors should not be able to claim travel expenses to get to and from County Hall sparked a staunch defence from the Conservative and Labour groups of the work which councillors do.
Paul Greenall said he wanted “politicians [to] be treated in the same way as members of the public” and claimed up to £30,000 could be saved by changing the rules.
“County Hall should be regarded as a person’s normal place of work. That’s what happens in the real world and that’s what we get the basic allowance for.
“I probably spend £1,500 every year to travel to work - and I’m not entitled to claim that money back,” County Cllr Greenall said.
But deputy leader of the Labour opposition group, John Fillis, said there was a crucial difference between councillors and those in the world of work.
“The fact is, legally, we are not employed. We get no minimum wage, no pensions, no maternity leave - where’s this employment? If we asked councillors how many hours they work and what their responsibility is [and then employed them on that basis], costs would go through the roof.
“You only have to look at the responsibility we all take on - a budget of £800m a year - and yet there are people trying to minimise the work we do,” County Cllr Fillis said.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats wanted extra payments paid to members with additional duties to be cut by 10 percent.
So-called ‘special responsibility allowances’, short of becoming a cabinet member, can add up to £8,400 to a councillor’s basic income - almost thirty members of the ruling Conservative group are currently in receipt of them. They are given to those fulfilling roles such as chairs of scrutiny committees and lead members - effective cabinet deputies.
“I think the general public might question what it is they do,” Lib Dem member David Howarth said.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to question how many special responsibility allowances there are and how much we’re paying out.”
Deputy council leader Albert Atkinson told the meeting that the payments were a reflection of the work being undertaken by members.
“A lot of councillors are in this building every day of the week and work at weekends as well,” he said.
And Labour’s Steve Holgate warned that less generous arrangements would make it more difficult to attract the councillors of the future.
“There are a lot of people who could earn a lot more money than by being a county councillor - and we need [people] to take on these responsibilities. As long as those who are paid special responsibility allowances do the job effectively, I have no issue with that,” he said.
There was further controversy over whether extra payment should be made for the role of chief whips for the ruling group and main opposition - the people charged with enforcing party discipline - who receive £4,500 and £3,000 respectively.
Independent member Paul Hayhurst said that the additional cash should come from party funds and not council taxpayers.
“Whips are there for political purposes, not for serving the people of Lancashire. I feel it’s wrong to pay special responsibility allowances for people to run the political fiasco [of full council meetings]. If people knew what they were paying for, they’d be appalled,” he said.
All member allowances have been considered and approved by an independent remuneration panel.
WHO GETS WHAT?
In addition to the basic allowance of £10,675...
Leader - £30,484
Deputy Leader - £21,338
Cabinet members - £16,766
Lead members - £8,382
Member champions - £5,335
Committee chairs - £7,620
Deputy committee chairs - £3,582
Majority group whip and secretary - £4,573 each
Opposition leader - £16,766
Deputy opposition leader - £8,382
Opposition group whip and secretary - £3,048 each