There was a slightly strange exchange at last night’s council meeting about councillors’ allowances, more details of the scheme here. Cllr Costello asked the Labour leader why he wasn’t cutting councillors’ allowances as part of the council’s spending reductions. It hardly sets a good example to the council’s staff if the councillors don’t take their share of the pain.
In their manifesto Labour promised: “A freeze on councillors’ allowances”. This always seemed to us to be a inadequate offer and back in October when allowances came up both the Tory and LibDem groups voted together to actually cut allowances by 10%. From Cllr Bell’s tweet you can see he knows he has to move on this but he has a problem – his rank and file councillors, of which there are many unfortunately, will not give up any of their allowances. Cllr Bell’s choice of words is evidence that he has a problem.
Labour’s solution is to have a go at what are called special responsibility allowances and in particular to do away with a large number of scrutiny panels and their chairmen. These panels are the basic training ground for new councillors and the place where councillors get to understand issues in detail and hold the officers and executive to account. They are often a lot of work. The Labour solution is to ditch these panels so that the administration gets less hassle and their back benchers don’t have to turn up to so many meetings, we know how they hate that! As Cllr Costello pointed out last night the Labour back benchers want to do less work for the same allowance whilst everywhere else the council is demanding more for less.
The current structure of allowances was agreed in 2006. Labour have often accused the old leader, Jason Stacey, of taking a big rise at that time. Cllr Stacey is too polite to point out loudly that he gave up a full-time job to be a full-time leader of the council and gained great acclaim in doing so. What Labour don’t point out is that they negotiated good rises for their own front bench at the time. If Labour wants to have a go a special responsibility allowances then either Cllr Bell should give up his two days a week working for Ealing Southall MP Virendra Sharma or he should give up 40% of his allowances. That’s £16,560 in the pot straight away. Cllr Bell is taking a full-time allowance and doing a part-time job.