City Hall

‘They say democracy comes at a price but I think £6,000 is terrific value for money’ - Norwich councillors vote in favour of increasing their allowances

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
10.58 PM

City councillors voted in favour of boosting their basic allowances by almost 11pc tonight - with the leader to receive a near-54pc increase from April.

Norwich City Council was recommended to increase a range of allowances, including the cash provided to the leader of the major minority party, by an independent panel.

Ruling Labour members and the opposition Green Party both supported the change, insisting it will help encourage more people from different backgrounds to become councillors.

But the three Liberal Democrats voted against the policy, noting it would be unjust to increase their own allowances while staff are subject to a pay freeze.

All 39 councillors will now receive £6,000 a year as a basic allowance - up by 10.7pc from £5,420.

The council leader, currently Labour’s Brenda Arthur, will see their special responsibility allowance increase from £6,504 to £10,000.

The overall allowances budget for 2013/14 will increase from £310,000 to £326,000.

Alan Waters, cabinet member for finance, said: “It comes out at the same time as recommendations by the communities select committee recognises the need for councillors to have adequate allowances to carry out their roles.

“Some ministers - the MP for Great Yarmouth [Brandon Lewis] being one and Grant Shapps, a man of multiple identities, being another - have suggested councillors are volunteers and comparisons have been made with scouts, guides and charities.

“All of these are very worthy occupations. But when you think about our responsibilities as councillors, as the political head of a multi-million pound organisation, these are serious responsibilities.

“We make more decisions, frankly, that affect more lives than the MPs.

“MPs make decisions in a very collective way. We do make decisions of great importance for the city involving often millions of pounds and we are responsible for the outcome.”

Green Party leader Claire Stephenson said: “They do say democracy comes at a price but I think the basic allowance of £6,000 for a ward councillor is terrific value for money for someone available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 5,000 people to do pretty much whatever they want.”

As reported, 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.

James Wright, Lib Dem group leader, said allowances could now cost the authority as much as £350,000 a year.

He said: “I find it difficult to comprehend putting through a policy of raising our own allowances when we are not doing anything to the pay of our staff.”