Croydon’s councillors last week opened the way for potential increases in their own “allowances” of as much as 20 per cent, and they did it all without any debate. By STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon’s new council last week passed a range of changes to the way the borough’s business is conducted, without a single question or element of discussion. This all went through on the nod not just at one meeting in the Town Hall chamber, but at two.
And the approved proposals appear to open the way to paying the Council Leader more than £65,000 per year.
Inside Croydon has already highlighted how a key decision at last week’s full council meeting at the Town Hall – the appointment of the £180,000 per year borough chief executive – was arrived at without discussion or question from any of the 70 councillors.
But last week, a range of measures which alter the council’s committee structure, impact the way in which council contracts are awarded, and which ignored calls from Croydon’s trades unions to scrap councillors’ allowances, all went through without the benefit of any discussion, not only at last week’s full council meeting, but also at the cabinet meeting held the previous evening.
Tony Newman, the Leader of the Council since Labour’s election victory two months ago, chaired the cabinet meeting on July 14, and when they ran out of time to complete all items on that agenda, he suggested that the proposals would get a proper airing at the next meeting, the following evening.
And there, in the paperwork for all councillors for the full council was another packed agenda, with 16 points of business, plus the “secret” Part B of the agenda. That meeting on July 15 barely managed to deal with half its business in the time allotted, and when it got to point 10, “Proposed changes to the constitution and related constitutional matters”, it was all accepted without as much as a murmur, from Labour or Tories alike.
Of course, four years ago when Croydon Tories won the local elections, virtually the first act of Mike Fisher and his Conservative cronies was to award themselves a pay rise, ahead of a four-year administration which would see them cutting spending and jobs across the council’s activities.
For 2012-2013, the last figures to have been published by the council website (maybe they’ve been having computer problems?), Fisher, as Leader of the Council, the role that Newman now holds, was banking £53,223 in “allowances” and “Special Responsibility Allowances”. Newman himself was on £32,813 as the leader of the opposition.
The basic level of allowance for those outside Croydon’s “Top 20” councillors in the cabinet or shadow cabinet, or without any other particular tasks, was set at suitably modest £11,239.
By law, local authorities must fix their councillor allowances once every four years.
Last week, Newman was at least as good as his word by rubber-stamping no immediate changes to councillors’ allowances, effecting what could be an eight-year pay freeze.
Councillors’ allowances cost the borough’s Council Tax-payers the thick-end of £1.5 million per year. But they attract controversy because of the manner in which the political duopoly that runs Croydon Town Hall levy compulsory contributions from councillors towards party funds. Effectively, public money is being used, somewhat anti-democratically many suggest, to subsidise two local political parties.
In maintaining the allowances status quo, Newman and his newly elected Labour group not only endorsed another decision of the previous Conservative administration, they also left the way clear for a potential 20 per cent hike in the amount paid to the Council Leader.
Buried in the paperwork (click on the report link under Item 10 on the agenda, and once downloaded, go to paragraph 3.31) – which came with an 87-page report and 72-page appendix all carefully prepared by the office of Julie Belvir, the Borough Solicitor – was a proposal, which is now policy, to follow a recommendation from the capital-wide London Councils body, under which councillors’ allowances are linked to an independent panel determining local government pay.
In that report, London Councils also recommends that councils should have full-time political council leaders – what they call a “strong leader” – and that their remuneration (note the shift in language, from “allowances”) should match the £66,000 paid to back-bench MPs. This, now, is effectively Croydon Council policy, although the report that was agreed at the Town Hall last week also states that, “In respect of the allowance for the Leader, the proposed scheme … suggests an allowance of less than the sum recommended by the Independent Panel.”
Which indeed it does.
But it is very much a “not for now”, rather than a “never”. By adopting the London Councils policy – without any debate or discussion – it appears to leave the way clear for Croydon’s Council Leader to be awarded the same “remuneration” as an MP at some point in the future.
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- No cuts in councillors’ allowances despite PM’s demands
- Scrap council cabinet and councillors’ allowances, says TUC
Coming to Croydon
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- David Lean Cinema: Locke, July 31
- Mind-Loosening Workshop, Aug 2
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, Aug 2
- Patchwork and quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, Aug 4
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 6
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 13
- Mind-Loosing Workshop, Aug 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Aug 16
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 20
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 27
- Upper Norwood Library well-being groups, Aug 30
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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