Keep it quiet: councillors make allowances for themselves

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.

Council Leader Tony Newman, left, and his choice of CEO, Nathan Elvery, share a joke at last night's cabinet meeting

Council Leader Tony Newman, left, and his choice of CEO, Nathan Elvery, share a joke at last week’s over-running cabinet meeting

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.

London Councils logoBuried 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.

You can download a copy of the London Councils remuneration report here.

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.

 


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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
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5 Responses to Keep it quiet: councillors make allowances for themselves

  1. davidcallam says:

    I’m surprised you’re surprised!

    Mr Newman was never going to do the job for less than Mr Fisher. Croydon TUC’s quaint proposals might strike a chord with council tax payers, but no councillor, certainly not a senior one with his or her snout in the trough, is ever going to rock the boat.

    Maybe the time has come to accept that the council leader is remunerated like an MP and to hold him to the same standard of competence.

    And the good news? Well maybe the demands of these greedy people will bring closer the time when we reduce the number of councillors per ward from two or three to one.

    That might be a reasonable response, particularly if we insist that the elected councillor signs up as a full-time employee of the council, with real duties and guaranteed hours of attendance.

  2. arnorab says:

    If the shiny bright new councillors turn out as venial, venal and self seeking as the old ones it would be very sad and depressing…but, politics being politics, perhaps inevitable.

  3. Thieves. What a disgrace. I won’t be surprised if the council tax goes up next year.
    Councillors are elected to serve not to earn.

  4. For one I agree with Croydon’s trade unions.

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