Tory, Labour and Lib Dem leaders have their say on decision to increase county councillors’ allowances
- Credit: Norfolk Conservatives
The decision by councillors to award themselves big increases in their allowances has sparked a storm.
Here, the three main political group leaders have their say:
Cliff Jordan, Conservative group leader
I proposed the increase to councillor allowances and voted in favour of it.
It raised the basic allowance from £9,401 to £10,500. I think it's a small price to pay for keeping democracy open to people from all walks of life. Meetings take place in daytime, so you'd need an understanding boss, to use up your holiday, or be retired to do the job. But for many, it takes up most of their time.
In rural areas, getting round the division is many miles, but we need to visit people, attend local meetings and do the job. The allowance, for many, is the only income they have – and there's no pension, no redundancy payment – once you're voted out, that's it.
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Chairmen of adult and children's social services will earn just over £18,000 – not much more than a full-time job on the national living wage - while working 60 hours a week and being responsible for life and death issues with vulnerable people. Frankly, it's a joke.
No, the system isn't right. It needed fixing. Even the opposition and the EDP acknowledge that councillors should be properly rewarded.
Their complaint was over timing. Well, I agree. It isn't a good time. But next year won't be a good time, or the year after, or the year after that: truth is, there's never a good time to do this.
The Independent Remuneration Panel agreed that councillors weren't properly remunerated, but said the time wasn't right, and it should be reviewed in two years. In two years the timing will be no better. This needed to be fixed – no point messing around, much better to crack on, and do it straight away.
Some of the main beneficiaries of Monday's vote were the Lib Dems – who requested, and were awarded, their own special allowances from the panel. That the panel agreed to recommend their special allowance immediately, but saw no need to fix the system for everyone else, was plain wrong.
Finally, I proposed the increase in order to fix the system and help councillors as a whole. I have said that I will give my increase to charity. That's my decision. Many of my colleagues will not be in a position to do the same, and it would be completely wrong to pressure them to do so. Each councillor is entitled to take the allowance in full, and I support them in that. For democracy to work, we need people from all walks of life standing for election. That way, we get better, more representative decisions.
This may not be popular, the timing may not be right, but I believe it was the right thing to do. And if it's the right thing to do, then we should just do it.
Emma Corlett, Labour deputy leader
Within two days of Norfolk Tories pushing through shameful increases in councillor allowances, more than 4,000 had signed our petition calling for the decision to be reversed. On Monday, the county council spent the day debating cutting the budget for our Sure Start centres in half, the effect of cuts to PCSOs and helping to support young people leaving our care by exempting them from council tax. The Tories voted against each and every Labour and Liberal Democrat proposal to try to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
Towards the end of the agenda was a report on councillor allowances. As for MPs, there's an independent panel that reviews our allowances. The recommendation was, given the level of cuts to services, allowances should remain broadly the same. To gasps of disbelief on the opposition side of the council chamber, council leader Cliff Jordan proposed an amendment, recommending a hefty 13% increase in his allowance and a 10.5% increase in allowances for all other councillors.
With staggering cheek, Cliff Jordan said it was the fault of the previous Labour-led administration for failing to raise allowances in line with inflation. Damn right we 'failed to'. At a time when our budgets are being savaged by central government, services cut and our staff not having a proper pay rise for years, why would we prioritise our own bank balances?
I voted against this disgraceful proposal because Norfolk people won't stand for hypocrites. People reliant on disability benefits have not had a cost of living rise. People out of work or in low paid work have not had cost of living rises to the benefits that they receive. Carers, who save our social care budget millions of pounds, have not had a cost of living rise to their allowance. Social workers, care workers, teachers, NHS workers, fire-fighters haven't had a cost of living pay rise. Most private sector workers haven't had a cost of living pay rise.
Cliff Jordan told the EDP in October that cuts would mean 'There will be some pain, there's no question about that' and that he wants 'communities looking after themselves as best they can'. The Tories are certainly looking after themselves by lining their own pockets.
Councillor allowances are vitally important to ensure that the broadest possible range of people can enter politics, not just those who are wealthiest or are retired. When I was elected the allowance enabled me to reduce my hours working as a nurse.
Many of the people who voted themselves this increase are hardly verging on destitution. I looked around the council chamber and saw people who receive big allowances from sitting on other councils, those in well-paid jobs, those receiving generous pensions, those with directorships. I guess they're hoping that by the time they're up for re-election in 2021 their residents will have forgotten about this.
I, along with my fellow Labour councillors, have decided I will not personally benefit from this increase. We will donate it to local charities or community groups to try and help make a difference to people who've been affected by the cuts to their services. And with the help of those signing our petition we'll fight to get this shameful decision reversed.
Dan Roper, Liberal Democrat group leader
Norfolk County Council is out to 'consultation' on a budget plan that doesn't deliver the savings it needs despite a 4.9% council tax increase. The 'consultation' puts under threat important services that people need and value: possible cuts to rural bus services, mobile libraries, road gritting and sweeping cuts to children's centres. At this time the council needs to be saving up every bit of spare money it can to balance the budget and protect services. This is not the time for irresponsible spending.
The Conservatives' decision to put up councillors' allowances by £142,000 a year is irresponsible and offensive. It is offensive to residents who are about to see vital services cut. It is also offensive to hard working council staff who after years of pay restraint have seen the leadership suddenly vote itself a 15% pay rise. The leader of the council talks about 'fairness' but has just been voted an allowances package that is double the average earnings in Norfolk.
An independent panel had looked at councillors' allowances and explicitly ruled out increases for the vast majority. The report concluded that based on workloads only about half a dozen councillors should have an allowance increase. The total cost was less than £8,000 a year. The Liberal Democrats were content to endorse that report; it was independent and fair, recognising that some councillors had more responsibilities than others. The Tories effectively chucked that report in the bin and acted as judge and jury on how much money they thought they deserved.
The Liberal Democrats absolutely oppose the blanket 11% increase for every councillor and another 15% for the council leadership. There are far better ways to spend £142,000.
It is ironic that on Monday morning many Conservative councillors were privately complaining about the icy roads on their trip to the council meeting. Yet at that meeting, at a time when the council is consulting on cutting the gritting budget the same councillors voted themselves a pay rise. They put themselves first and the community second.
I became a councillor to do my best for my community. I represent a rural area, so there is a lot of travel. I have reduced my hours at work due to council activities, I attend a lot of evening meetings. But, I do not feel I need a pay rise. I am in this for public service not for the money. I am sure many councillors of all parties feel the same way. It is a shame that this decision on allowances reflects badly on all of us. I share the public's anger and want this decision reversed with the money going to provide vital services.