Big rise in special allowances payments for councillors questioned
- Credit: Archant
An independent panel which recommends how much Norfolk county councillors should receive in allowances has drawn attention to the rising number of elected members who get special payments.
That panel has said, since 2016/17, the amount of money the council spends on special responsibility allowances (SRA) has increased by almost 41pc.
And, against a backdrop where the council needs to make at least £39m of savings, the panel said: "We wish to draw council’s attention to the increasing number of potential recipients of SRAs."
While county councillors do not receive salaries, they are entitled to certain allowances - and were paid £1.3m in 2019/20.
The basic allowance is currently £10,924, although that will increase once a local government pay settlement - which the allowance is linked to - is agreed.
Councillors with special responsibilities, such as council leader, cabinet member, leader of the opposition, chairman of committees and members of certain committees, are entitled to extra allowances.
After the council switched from a committee system to a cabinet system, the independent panel wanted to review special responsibility allowances.
And its report recommends there should be no increase in the special responsibility allowances for the majority of those who receive them, including council leader Andrew Proctor, deputy leader Graham Plant, cabinet members, opposition leaders, various committee chairs and opposition spokespeople.
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In May, leader Mr Proctor announced he was appointing two new deputy cabinet members, for children's services (Daniel Elmer) and adult social services (Shelagh Gurney).
The panel said it was too early to properly assess those roles, so recommends a future panel should consider them. But it said, in the meantime, they should get backdated payments of 20pc of the leader's allowance.
The panel also wants a future panel to consider whether other roles such as members of adoption and fostering panels, and the chairs of Norfolk Records committee, Norfolk Joint Museums committee and standards justify special responsibility allowances.
Spending on SRAs went up from £220.781 in 2016/17 to £310,289 in 2020/21.
In its report, the panel states: "We note that expenditure on SRAs has increased by 40.5pc between 2016/17 and 2020/21.
"We understand that direct comparison is difficult because the council moved from the existing committee system to a cabinet system in 2019/20, however, we wish to highlight this growth to the council.
"Although the county council’s scheme allows only for the highest allowance to be paid to members who are entitled to two or more SRAs, we wish to draw council’s attention to the increasing number of potential recipients of SRAs.
"We would ask that when the new panel meets it gives consideration to this and some other matters that we indicate in light of the overall financial context and challenges facing the county council."
Mr Proctor said the independent panel had agreed to the SRAs when first set up so he found it "a little odd" it was raising issues now.
And he defended the appointment of deputy cabinet members. He said: "They are doing a good and valued job, supporting the cabinet members in the big portfolio areas of children's services and adult social services."
Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, had given evidence to the panel, in which he said there was no justification for the deputy cabinet members - and called for a cap on allowances.
He said: "We have been complaining about the unreasonable hike in local councillor allowances for five years now and we would echo those concerns over special responsibility allowances which have been raised by the panel.
"We should put a financial cap on how much we are prepared to spend on allowances."
The full council will decide whether to approve the panel's recommendations when it meets on Monday, November 29.
The issue of allowances for councillors has sparked controversy in recent years.
In 2017, the Conservative administration voted to increase their allowances by almost 12pc - against a recommendation by an independent panel.
In February last year, the council voted to link future increases to the pay rise for public sector workers, even though the independent panel urged them not to.