Councillors’ bid for allowances body thrown out

By <b>Ian Dipple Friday 13 June 2014 Updated: 13/06 09:22

A BID by councillors to rid themselves of responsibility for setting their own pay has been rejected by the Government.

Councillors from all parties agreed last year to appeal to ministers to set up an independent body to regulate their allowances, similar to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority which rules on MPs salaries and expenses.

Although an independent committee is responsible for suggesting the level of any allowance rise, it is councillors who have the final vote. That has led to concerns they are being placed in an impossible position when deciding whether or not to accept a pay rise, particularly at a time of budget cuts.

But Brandon Lewis, local government minister, has dismissed the idea. In a letter to council leader Bill Hartnett he said it was a local matter for local councillors to decide on. Some councillors fear without a reasonable level of allowances the role of councillor will be dominated by the wealthy.

The pressure is now back on borough councillors, who are the lowest paid in Worcestershire, receiving a basic allowance of £3,350. To put Redditch councillors on a par with the average for the county would require an increase in allowances of almost £800. Such a move would cost more than £22,672 and is likely to be unacceptable given the need to make significant savings.

A similar move recommended by the independent renumeration panel last year to increase the basic allowance to £4,200 was rejected. Coun Hartnett told the Standard with a budget gap of about £2million to fill already for the next financial year it was not an immediate concern.

“I wasn’t surprised and guessed that would be the minister’s reaction but it was the wish of the council I write and ask the question,” he said.

“We are in restrained times and our government grant is being cut again so it’s a question of priorities. It’s not a priority of mine, it’s a priority of the council’s, but it’s not something that keeps me awake at night there, are bigger things to think about.”

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