South Norfolk Council agrees increase in councillors’ allowances

Councillors agreed a 3pc increase in their basic allowances, despite hearing council staff were suffering a three-year pay freeze.

Paul Grant, UNISON branch secretary at South Norfolk Council, said a freeze on recruitment to vacant posts meant office staff were often having to take over the extra responsibilities performed by employees who had left those posts, with no extra reward.

His response at the meeting on Monday came after council leader John Fuller said members were having to spend an extra 10 hours every four months on council business due to the increased burdens of implementing the government's Localism Act, which aims to transfer power from central government to communities and local councils.

But Mr Grant said: 'Our staff have also suffered a three-year pay freeze with little chance of increase.

'Some staff have been given a performance-related pay increase, but vacancies in middle and front line services have either been deleted or not filled.

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'Time after time our staff take on responsibility for the service with no extra reward.'

He said the council's housing service had been hit particularly hard by the council's cutbacks before adding: 'I would ask you to consider how the staff and public will view any increase in allowances.'

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As well as the increase in the basic allowance, the council also agreed a 5pc rise in the Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) for duties above and beyond their role as ward councillors.

The recommendation to increase followed a review of allowances by an independent panel, including Peter Franzen, representing the media, Judith Head, representing the voluntary sector, Paul Spinks, from business, and Chris Walker, from town and parish councils.

The panel found members receiving SRA were spending an average of 78 hours per month on council business compared to 66 hours per month when the last review was carried out in 2009, while South Norfolk Council was paying under average on members' allowances compared to other Norfolk district councils.

Cabinet members receiving SRA were only receiving 76pc of the Norfolk average. In addition, the panel also noted the average pay for south Norfolk residents had increased from �11.06 to �12.23 since the panel last met in January 2009.

The rise will see the basic allowance for members change from �4,333 to �4,463 per annum, while the council leader would be paid �9,712 a year and cabinet members �4,856 per year.

Defending the increase, Mr Fuller said the council had delivered 'huge savings' and had frozen council tax for the last five years, as well as helping to increase the provision of affordable housing in the district and council tax support.

'By any measure, I think we are giving value for money, particularly when measured against any other council across the country,' he added.

But Murray Gray, the Liberal Democrat council member for Earsham, said: 'We are supposed to be all in this together. The staff have just had a pay freeze. They don't get an increase if their performance has improved.'

The vote was largely split along party lines, with the Conservatives in favour of the increase and the Liberal Democrats opposing.

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