Our political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on how the recently elected Labour leadership is trying to sneak through increases in councillor allowances without anyone noticing
Something was being withheld from the public domain when, just before the weekend, the council published the agenda for next Monday’s full council meeting.
It’s there in black and white on thee council website. Well, almost.
Item 13: “Review of Members’ Scheme of Allowances. To review the Council’s Scheme of Allowances.”
But there’s no detail of what this review might contain, no pdf file for the public to link to to see what’s in store. Just a two-word signal that this is something that council leader Tony Newman doesn’t want anyone to know anything about just yet: “[To Follow]” is all it says.
The reason, according to Katharine Street sources, is because Newman is plotting the first hike in allowances for Croydon councillors in more than eight years, with the biggest pay increases reserved for himself and the loyal members of his inner cabal and cabinet.
Council business is supposed to be made public at least seven days before the matter is up for discussion. So Newman has probably already broken some procedural rules by failing to share with the public the detail of what he is proposing. As well as the borough residents who effectively pay him his wages, Newman has also kept in the dark most of his own backbench councillors and the Tory opposition councillors.
Councillors’ allowances are routinely set once every four years, at the start of the council term. In 2014, the decision was taken by the then newly elected Labour group to make no increases to the allowances, as Newman and his band of Blairites set about dealing with the £1billion deficit left behind by Mike Fisher’s eight years of Conservative misrule and Tory austerity cuts.
Croydon, in any case, already had the highest basic allowance of any council in London, a status it still holds today.
The council already spends £1,456,862 of Council Tax-payers’ money every year on allowances paid to its 70 elected councillors.
Every Croydon councillor, however insignificant and however far back in the shadows of the back benches they may sit, far removed from the levers of power, still receives a basic allowance of £11,239 per year.
Meanwhile, Newman and his hand-picked, most loyal Labour councillors then all pick up “special responsibility allowances”, or SRAs, to top-up their basic allowance.
In Newman’s case, that adds up to £53,223 per year. His deputy, Alison Butler, banks £46,485 from the council. Under the 2014-2018 scheme, cabinet members receive £43,339. Now, that could all be about to change.
A “review” of members’ allowances was announced at the council meeting in May.
Newman is expected to use as a justification an annual allowances review published in January by the Labour-dominated London Councils organisation. They recommended then that the basic allowance should be set at £11,045 – yep, a couple of hundred sovs less than Croydon’s backbenchers currently receive.
Notably London Councils’ report backed a rate of £68,130 for council leaders, like Newman. Cushty.
It seems unlikely that even Newman would be so crass as to go the whole nine yards and push through such a huge increase, because that would mean he will be getting an inflation-busting 28 per cent pay increase. Trebles all-round!
Well, not quite all-round.
The word on Katharine Street is that only Newman and a few of his closest political allies, such as Butler and her husband, Paul Scott, will get the bigger increases, while backbenchers will have to make do with the crumbs from the table. And not everyone is quite as delighted about that as Newman expects them to be.
There will be some special circumstances to handle, too. As well as charing the planning committee (Special Responsibility Allowance add-on: £12,507), Scott is now “job sharing” the cabinet position for planning with Stuart King, so the finances around those positions need to be ironed out. And Louisa Woodley, having been dumped from the cabinet, has had that bumpy landing softened somewhat by being handed a committee position which, as if by magic, now carries a near-cabinet-level extra allowance of around £20,000.
All this comes, of course, amid a context of continued cuts to the local authority’s budget, due to Tory government austerity policies, which is seeing significantly fewer council staff and employees of council contractors working to deliver services to the borough’s residents. In the meantime, however, pay for council executives such as CEO Jo Negrini, has gone up in the past year. Negrini is now on at least £200,000.
But if Newman is going to use the London Councils review to justify giving himself a pay rise, he would do well to pay attention to other sections within their 2018 report.
Such as this: “We reiterate our view that no more than 50 per cent of councillors should receive a special responsibility allowance. We also continue to believe that no member should receive more than one special responsibility allowance though we accept that there might exceptionally be special circumstances where allocation of more than one Special Responsibility Allowance might be justified, eg where members undertake a number of different time-consuming roles such as sitting on licensing hearings.”
In Croydon, where Newman uses public money to dole out patronage to councillors, 44 of our 70 elected members receive some form of SRA.
- Click here to see the councillor allowances as agreed in 2014
- Click for London Councils’ 2018 remuneration report
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