Reader Letter: Councillors can't simply do what they like over allowances
PUBLISHED: 15:49 18 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:53 18 March 2018
As chair of the Independent Remuneration Panel that reviewed the allowances paid to Norfolk county councillors, I was pleased that journalists at the EDP continue to hold members to account.
The panel recommended an increase of one per cent, but the councillors ignored the panel and instead gave themselves more than 10 times that amount, adding £140,000 to the budget.
In light of public disquiet over the increase, many councillors said they would refuse the increase or give the extra remuneration to charity.
County council leader Cliff Jordan publicly stated he would give his increase to charity. Yet, despite requests from journalists for transparency in the matter, he refused to respond to questions over what he had done with his increase.
Further, he advised councillors not to respond either, suggesting the journalists’ questions were a “witch hunt”.
Public service comes with responsibility. The seven principles of the Nolan Committee report on standards in public life are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
When Mr Jordan spoke to the independent remuneration panel he rightly pointed out that allowances paid to Norfolk councillors were lower than many - but not all - other councils of similar size and rurality.
He also said that councillors were working much harder than ever before and putting in longer hours.
However, he did not produce any facts or figures to prove this point. It was anecdotal evidence.The panel took account of the fact that later this year Norfolk County Council would go back to the “cabinet system” of local government, where the workload of rank and file councillors would change significantly.
In past years the county had operated this system and there was clear evidence that the committee work for the councillors “outside the cabinet” would reduce. It was for this reason the panel felt that to increase the basic allowance now would be unwise, and create a higher ceiling that might not be justified when the new system came into operation.
The panel agreed to review the allowances after six months of the new system and collect data on which a future recommendation could be made, with regard to the basic allowance and extra responsibility payments.
It will be interesting to see what happens if the study shows that councillors on the basic allowance are doing less than at present, and whether their remuneration should be reduced.
Of course, the panel can only advise and its recommendations can be ignored - as happened this time. In truth, and in light of the Nolan principles, the panel should be given more respect and possibly greater power.
It cannot be right that councillors can simply do what they like over allowances, with no checks, balances or restraint.