Councillors’ allowances, in other words the amount of money they receive, is a difficult topic. All councillors (or “Members”) receive a Basic Allowance of £11,514 a year, which recognises some of the time they have to spend on Council matters. In addition they are able to claim expenses for some mileage outside of their Division and other sundry expenses (which I don’t believe are claimed much) , such as child-minding and meals.
In some rural Divisions, telephone and broadband charges together with the vehicle mileage covered by conscientious Members in their local activities¹, eat a long way into the £11k Basic Allowance. Expenses claims for travel generally only apply for travel outside the Division (in my case for trips to Shirehall, and Bridgnorth and Craven Arms for Planning Committee commitments). My Much Wenlock Division runs from Forge Cottages on the bank of the River Severn at Coalport to Rock Cottages at Shipton, a route distance of some 14½ miles. Some of my colleagues’ Divisions, such my neighbour Cecilia Motley in Corvedale and Robert Tindall in Brown Clee, have a significantly larger area to cover, and with many more parishes.
Those Members who hold additional roles, such as the Chairman of the Council, the Speaker, Portfolio Holders and Committee chairmen can also receive an additional Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA).
The level of Members’ allowances and expenses is recommended by an Independent Remuneration Panel comprised of five local people with varied professional experience.
The recommendations² that they have made to the Council, which meets on 22nd February, include:
- The Basic Allowance of £11,514 should remain unchanged.
- The SRA multiplier for the Chairman of Council/Deputy Speaker be reduced from 0.75 to 0.5, making £17,271 in total
- The Speaker/Vice Chairman should receive the same deduction
- The SRA multiplier for the Leader of Council be increased from 2 to 2.5, making £40,299 in total
- The SRA multiplier for Opposition (Labour and LibDem) Group Leaders be increased from from 0.5 to 0.75, making £20,150 in total.
- There are a number of other changes, mostly reductions, spelled out in the appendix to the Council agenda
When the Independent Remuneration Panel met in September last year, I took the opportunity of addressing them.
My comments included:
- In May 2017, 223 candidates contested 73³ Council seats. Many of them were young folk. The current level of Basic Allowance did not appear to be a disincentive to standing for election.
- One would hope that candidates seek election to Shropshire Council for the contribution they can make in their Division and to Shropshire as a whole, not for the financial benefit.
- Council employees (and Members) took a pay cut when the recession bit. Members’ allowances should not rise faster than staff pay increases.
- At a time when Shropshire residents are feeling the pinch, and while some Shropshire Council services are being trimmed because of its financial position, their elected representatives should not have their allowances increased
That said, the overall allowances bill would fall, which is a good thing. It will still be around £1m p.a., which why I not happy with the recommendations. I am especially unhappy about the increases proposed for the Leader of the Council and for the opposition Group Leaders. I will not be supporting this when it comes to Council this Thursday.
¹Activities include attending town and parish council, and other, meetings; advice surgeries; dealing with local initiatives such as litter picks, highways and planning matters.
²In the interests of complete transparency, as Vice-Chairman of the South Planning Committee, I am entitled to an SRA of 0.125 which would add £1,439 p.a. to my Basic Allowance of £11,514. I have chosen not to receive this additional sum since May 2017.
³Shropshire Council comprises 74 Members. Only 73 seats were contested – I was unopposed in Much Wenlock.