ELECTION COUNTDOWN: When deciding who to vote for this Thursday, consider carefully the money paid to councillors in ‘allowances’, reports BELLE MONT, our Sutton Council correspondent
It’s the sort of question you could easily imagine one Sutton borough councillor asking another: “What did you do to upset your party leader that you are only on the basic?”
More than half of the 44 Liberal Democrats in the group which controls Sutton Council get paid what are known as Special Responsibility Allowances, or SRAs. The councilspeak jargon tries to disguise it, but in plain terms it is councillor wages, paid for out of Council Tax. And there’s plenty happy to stick their noses in the trough.
Three out of the eight Tories on the council are also on SRAs. No Labour councillors get SRAs in Sutton because, well… there hasn’t been a Labour councillor since 2014 (though that may change after Thursday’s local elections).
In Sutton, the Conservative group, led by Tim Crowley, have always voted against increases in councillor allowances. But funnily enough, they have always accepted the payments after the LibDems have voted them through.
Sutton also has two independent councillors, but as they have no party leaders to please, they just get the basic.
All Sutton’s 54 councillors receive a “basic” allowance of £10,519, but the leaders of both majority groups and cabinet members then have these amounts topped up with SRAs. Top of the pile is the LibDems’ council leader, Ruth Dombey, who is on more than £51,000.
On the last published figures for councillor allowances for 2016-2017, there are some eye-watering amounts of tax-payer money going out in allowances.
For example, in Sutton North, Dombey and her two fellow LibDem councillors between them raked in more than £82,000 in one year.
In Sutton West, Simon Wales, the deputy leader, and two more LibDems pocketed a handsome £78,000 in a year.
How many Council Tax-payers does it take just to pay just these six people? Well, on an average Band D at £1,602, you do the maths…
In all aspects of the council remit, cuts have and are continuing to take place. Not in the councillors’ allowances trough, though.
While ordinary council employees are being made redundant or are being asked to do more for less, the same number of councillors, having contracted ever more services to private companies, such as Veolia and idVerde, are doing less and less but getting more and more in allowances.
The real reason behind these allowances is a public funding stream for local political party campaigns. The more councillors a party has getting the tax-payer funded top-ups, the better. Through the patronage of their leader, it also ties those councillors to their party. It’s not a situation unique to Sutton – much the same goes on in Labour-controlled Croydon.
How can you be sure councillors vote for your interests when party funding is at stake?
No wonder electors in Sutton are getting so much glossy stuff from the LibDems and Tories, with up to 10 per cent of the councillor allowances going in contributions to their local party machines.
Labour party sources in Sutton estimate that, without the boost of public money from councillor payments, their five-week campaign budget is a value for money £6,000. Sutton’s LibDems and Tories, meanwhile, are each expected to be declaring the maximum £45,000 that electoral law will allow them to spend.
Next time one of those glossy political leaflets comes through your door from the Tories or LibDems, just remember that you helped to pay for it.
Shame, then, that when you put it in the recycling bin you will have to wait so long to get it taken away.
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