December 18 2013 Latest news:
Monday, September 2, 2013
They say democracy comes at a price and new figures have shown councillors across the region were paid the best part of £4.7m last year to make decisions on behalf of people in Norfolk and Suffolk.
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Across 10 county and district councils, that was the figure shared in 2012/13 among more than 500 county, city, district and borough councillors.
And the councillors themselves say they are worth that bill to taxpayers, given how much of their time they spend tackling council-related work and representing the people who voted for them.
While councillors do not receive salaries as such, they are entitled to certain allowances. Basic allowances, which all councillors are entitled to, range from £3.426 at Broadland District Council to £10,172 at Suffolk County Council. Councillors with special responsibilities, such as council leader, cabinet member, leader of the opposition, chairman of committees and members of certain committees also get extra allowances.
They can also claim for travelling and subsistence and carers’ allowances, while some authorities also provide allowances so councillors can have broadband.
Across Norfolk, and taking in the Waveney District Council area of Suffolk, more than 50 councillors are what are known as twin-hatters, sitting on more than one council.
As you would expect, those councillors, claiming allowances from two different authorities, are among those who received the most in 2012/13.
The top earner was Mark Bee, Conservative leader of Suffolk County Council and former leader of Waveney District Council. In 2012/13 he received £47,617.
That was made up of £43,983 from the county council (including a £27,973 special responsibility allowance for being council leader) and £3,635 from Waveney, where he remains a councillor.
Another twin-hatter was William Nunn, who recently announced he was stepping down as leader of the Conservative controlled Breckland Council.
Up until May’s county council elections he was also a Norfolk county councillor and, between the two authorities, he received just over £38,340 – £29,412 from Breckland and £8,928 from County Hall.
Derrick Murphy, the former Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council, who, following a standards hearing earlier this year, decided not to stand for election in May, received £33,339.
That included a £21,026 special responsibility allowance for being council leader.
In Norwich, Labour leader Brenda Arthur (pictured below) received £11,924, including a special responsibility allowance of £6,504.
The council has agreed that the allowance for being leader will increase to £10,000 this year, while all the councillors will get £6,000 a year as a basic allowance – up by 10.7pc from £5,420.
Andrew Proctor, the Conservative leader of Broadland District Council, got almost as much in his role as a Norfolk county councillor as he did for his Broadland role.
He received £27,489, made up of £14,562 for his Broadland role and £12,927 for his duties as a county councillor.
George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, received £9,117 for 2012/13, the period before he took the helm at County Hall.
On whether councillors are worth it, he said: “Some are and some are not. Some are not paid nearly enough given the amount of work they put in, but others are paid too much. It depends on the individual.
“There is no way, through the allowances system, to differentiate between them. But I will certainly not be advocating any increase here.”
On Thursday, the role of councillors will be debated at Westminster, as part of an inquiry into the roles of councillors.
The Local Government Association, which represents local councils, argues the role of a councillor is changing and that remuneration needs to reflect the loss of earnings councillors face as demands on them increase.
The association says allowances average about £7,000 a year and point out they are fully taxed.
At the launch of the inquiry in January, Clive Betts MP, chairman of the government’s communities and local government committee, said: ”Few councillors will vote themselves higher allowances even if there is a legitimate reason for doing so, because it provokes so much public controversy. Councils should be given the power to transfer decisions about allowances to independent local bodies.”
But the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which promotes itself as an independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes, disagreed. Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the group, said: “With local authorities up and down the country having to rein in spending and many public sector staff facing a pay freeze, the last thing anyone should be proposing is a hike in councillors’ allowances.”
And one Norfolk councillor agreed the public thinks politicians are “power crazy money-grabbers”.
Marie Field, who represents Central and Northgate ward on Great Yarmouth Borough Council, revealed last week how she has stopped claiming cash for her role as housing appeals committee chairman.
She said in 16 months she took £1,192 but was only called into action for one meeting, and that the burden of claiming that cash weighed heavily on her in a town which is one of the country’s most deprived.
Explaining why she would not be claiming again, she said: “Working class people of this town, and I am sure up and down the UK, still think politicians are power crazy money-grabbers.
“Well you all know by now, I pride myself over having a good relationship with ordinary folk. That is why my conscience had to give up my allowance.”
She added she hoped the money, remaining in the pot of local taxpayers’ cash, can be used for “cleaning up our streets”.