Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus

CROYDON COMMENTARY: There’s one cut-back our Town Hall politicians won’t make, writes STEVEN DOWNES

Croydon Town HallHere’s a proposal you will not find in any party’s local election manifesto – if Croydon’s Tories ever get round to publishing a statement of policies and pledges before voting day in May, that is. And yet it could save the borough’s Council Tax-payers at least £1 million over the term of one council administration. And it would not impact any of the council’s services to residents.

The proposal is simple: instead of having 70 councillors across the borough, with three to be elected to represent most wards on May 22, in the future, Croydon Town Hall should accommodate just 48 councillors, two for all 24 wards.

Many of the borough’s councillors are diligent and hard-working on behalf of their local patch’s residents. But there is a good chance that some might not do quite so much casework in their part-time roles.

Yet even the most obscure of Croydon’s councillors receive £11,239 per year in “allowances” from the council. Having 22 fewer councillors, even if those culled are from the bottom of the Town Hall gravy train’s pay scale, would save the borough £250,000 a year.

Around one-quarter of the council’s spending on staff and services has been axed in the last five years. But councillors’ allowances have not been reduced by a single penny. And there’s plenty of scope to make even bigger savings.

Steve "Three Jobs" O'Connell with here-today-gone-tomorrow Waddon councillor Clare Hilley, and some other bloke: does he earn the public money he is paid?

Steve “Three Jobs” O’Connell with here-today-gone-tomorrow Waddon councillor Clare Hilley, and some other bloke: does O’Connell really earn the public money he is paid?

Mike Fisher, the leader of the Tories who “run” our council, gets to pocket more than £53,000 in allowances every year. Steve O’Connell, a councillor for Kenley with responsibilities also at City Hall, at one stage was receiving more than £100,000 in allowances from Croydon Council and the London Assembly, making him “Britain’s most overpaid local councillor”. And meanwhile, the Terry and June of Croydon politics, Tory deputy leader Dudley Mead and his missus, Councillor Margaret Mead, receive a grand total of £89,824 from Croydon Council towards their pension nest-egg.

There are plenty of other councillors, on either side of the Town Hall chamber, who receive double or even more than the basic £11,000 allowance, often for little more than attending the occasional additional committee meeting.

It is signal of the current administration’s standards for self-serving that virtually the first thing they agreed to do on being re-elected four years ago, amid all the other cut-backs to services for residents, was to vote themselves a nice little increase in their own allowances.

At the time, Labour sounded suitably outraged. But nowhere will you find any election pledge from either party to cut councillor allowances, nor to reduce the number of councillors.

Croydon Labour leader Tony Newman: will he seek to do anything radical over councillors' allowances?

Croydon Labour leader Tony Newman: will he seek to do anything radical over councillors’ allowances?

The “They’re all as bad as one another” refrain is one which will doubtless be heard often from ill-served residents in the next seven weeks up to the elections. For all the slanging matches across the floor at Town Hall meetings, there’s a fair degree of truth in that sentiment: to adapt another politician’s catch-phrase: “They’re all in it together”.

There is an underlying consensus among Croydon’s political class. They might wear different coloured rosettes, but there is little else to distinguish them as they battle for the “middle ground”.

On the matter of allowances, they all sing from the same song sheet. This is not just self-interest. It is also the secret way in which the parties manage to use public money to subsidise their political activities and maintain the cosy duopoly at the Town Hall. Allowances funding actually helps to freeze out minor parties and independents, who are denied access to the same public cash unless they get elected, and they rarely get elected because they lack the money to finance their campaigns.

You probably won’t have heard this practice much mentioned in public. It is the political classes’ unspoken consensus, with millions of pounds of public money “laundered” across the country through councillor allowances, with a proportion of it paid by councillors straight into their party funds. Both Labour and the Conservatives do it, in Croydon and in every local authority across the land.

In Croydon in 2012-2013 alone, a total of £1,453,510 was paid out to the 70 part-time councillors in allowances. Even if only 2per cent of that is paid over by our councillors, that means that the people of Croydon have unknowingly subsidised the local Labour and Conservative parties with nearly £120,000 since the last Town Hall elections.

As far as our councillors are concerned, it hardly matters whether it is in the interest of the electorate whether there are so many councillors being paid quite so much, because it is in their political parties’ best interests.

A cull of councillors would require a ward boundary review, but as the last census demonstrated, that’s probably overdue in any case. With party memberships in decline, even the two major parties have struggled to find 70 suitable candidates to stand in all wards across the borough, so having fewer councillors would help to improve the calibre of candidates, as well as cutting the amount spent on allowances. And this is without even suggesting that the current generous levels of allowances paid to councillors should be reduced.

Which Croydon party will be first to adopt this as a policy for May 22? Don’t hold your breath.


Coming to Croydon


Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 516,649 page views (Jan-Dec 2013)

If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, 2015 General Election, Council Tax, Croydon Council, Dudley Mead, Ian Parker, London Assembly, Mike Fisher, Steve O'Connell, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus

  1. davidcallam says:

    At last; an even-handed piece and one with which I can partly agree.
    Personally, I would go further. One councillor per ward is sufficient, together with a return to a time when councillors were paid out-of-pocket expenses, but not allowances.

  2. Congratulations to Inside Croydon for highlighting this issue. As well as a smaller Council there should be lower councillors’ allowances. Why should allowances for Croydon backbench councillors be 50% higher than in the London Borough of Kingston?

    Allowances for Cabinet members and Shadow Cabinet members were increased considerably a few years ago, and are now too high. Also Croydon used to be able to manage with one Deputy Leader and one shadow Deputy Leader, but now there are two of each.

    Senior officers’ salaries could also do with pruning.

    I don’t agree with David Callam that there should only be out-of-pocket expenses.That would lead to a Council dominated by the retired and those with private means. However there is still scope for considerable savings.

  3. davidjl2014 says:

    Both my grandfather and father sat on Croydon Council for a combined total of over 60 years
    and never received a penny for attending meetings.

    In those days it was all about serving your community. Today, it’s all about politics and money. I’m not saying don’t pay councillors, but at least put it all into perspective.

  4. It is not all about politics and money for all.

  5. mraemiller says:

    On a slight tangent given the arguments over closing the Warehouse Theatre, the David Lean Cinema, the privatisation and potential closure of public libraries and many other painful spending cuts and the sale of the Riesco pieces, and in the knowledge that there are more spending cuts to come from central government, how does the Conservative administration justify its £25 rebate on Council Tax?

    Maths isn’t my strong point, but if there are 149,700 households in Croydon, then the council has just “given away” £3.7 million.

    Erm … if you sell the Riesco china for £6.5 million then the Council tax giveaway is almost half of what they made on the china. Given public finances are absolutely at breaking point already, how can they possibly justify this pre-election bribe? And what other services will have to be martyred to the Tories’ ideological obsession with low taxation (or bribing the taxpayers as people on the left call it)?

    Don’t care about the Riesco china? What about the lollipop ladies and gentlemen the council unceremoniously handed their P45s? Did they cost £3.7 million to employ?

    Surely Mr Fisher knows the price of everything and the value of no one.

  6. As I dashed between projects yesterday in Croydon, the situation in Tower Hamlets with the Mayor accused of favouring certain projects to maximise his votes was pointed out to me by one local businessman. He then went on to comment that he thought that there was too much political influence in Croydon over the allocation of grants.

    The sense of entitlement verges on the feudal – we have to build a new transparent society where trust in public office is re-established.

    I am not convinced that either of the main parties in Croydon can do that currently – there is too little trust and too much a sense of collusion.

  7. Are you being silly? What would all these councillors do for retirement income? This is the only way to make sure that they have enough when they retire. Some even bend the rules (“Stop it P it was just a loophole and we made use of it”) to get selected.

    Some have joined the party after retirement.

    Councillor Fisher did leave his full time job to be the council leader.

  8. Fewer councillors is a great idea. But let’s not forget the bad old days when only retirees, business owners and full-time union employees could afford to be councillors.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s