On the up? City councillors in Norwich to decide whether to increase their allowances
copyright Archant Photographic 2011
Norwich city councillors are set to decide whether to increase how much money they receive in return for their public service.
An independent panel has recommended a number of increases in the annual allowances, which are intended to recognise the time commitment of councillors in helping constituents and attending meetings and to cover incidental costs such as telephone bills.
The recommendations would see the basic allowance, which all councillors are entitled to, increased by just under £600 from £5,420 to £6,000.
The leader of the council, currently Labour’s Brenda Arthur, would see their special responsibility allowance as leader go up from £6,504 to £10,000.
Cabinet members and the leader of the major minority party, currently Green Party leader Claire Stephenson, would see their special responsibility allowance go up from £4,552 to £5,000.
There would also be increases for chairs of licensing, planning and scrutiny committees of just over £200, from £2,278 to £2,500, while the chair of audit would, for the first time, be entitled to that allowance.
Other members of audit, licensing, planning and scrutiny committees would also see a slight increase, from £1,302 to £1,500, while there will be a limit on how many special responsibility allowances can be claimed.
In 2009 an independent panel recommended an increase, but that was put on hold as the council was on the brink of becoming a unitary council.
While the council’s hopes of making that switch were scuppered, the proposal for allowances increases was discussed again in 2010, but councillors decided not to take the increase.
The latest report, which has compared the allowances paid at City Hall to other similar councils, considered that “the level of responsibility and volume of work of the role of leader of the council warranted a significant increase in allowance”.
They found that, compared to the £6,504 the leader at City Hall gets, the leader of Cambridge City Council gets £10,433, the leader at Ipswich Borough Council £11,235 and the leader of the City of Lincoln Council gets £9,519.
They also felt: “The level of responsibility and volume of work of the role of cabinet member is undervalued in the current scheme.”
Mrs Arthur said: “I think we are likely to give it very serious consideration. It’s really important that a range of people of all ages can become councillors and that they can afford to do it.”
Miss Stephenson, below left, opposition Green Party leader, said her group recognises the importance of voluntary work and encourages people to be active in their communities.
She said: “However, the role of a councillor is not easy to fit with a full-time job and many excellent potential councillors are currently unable to stand for election because they can’t afford to.
“This leads to a democratic deficit and a situation where only people who don’t need to work full-time can be councillors. We want a truly democratic situation where no-one is prevented from being a councillor because they can’t afford to do the job. With a basic allowance of £6,000 a year, councillors will still be paid way below the minimum wage and we need to acknowledge the many hours they put in voluntarily.”
If the recommendations are agreed at tomorrow’s full council meeting, then the budget for paying allowances would have to be increased from £310,000 to £326,000.
James Wright, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “As a group we have had discussions around this when the original report was produced, but as of yet we have not met as a group to discuss what we are going to do.”
Another recommendation of the panel is that councillors are not allowed to join the local government pension scheme. Their report says there was “some, but not a high level of interest from councillors” in doing that.
But the panel concluded it would be “expensive and administratively difficult for the council to manage” and would be unlikely to be worthwhile for councillors.