Having another crack at sorting out councillor allowances

Councillor allowances in Brighton & Hove has been a long-running issue of contention. For an age they have been deeply unfair. Putting aside whether they are too much or too little, how they are distributed across the parties is due an overhaul.

Responsibility for this work lies with an Independent Remuneration Panel who do very good work. They published a report in March 2010 which essentially sought to fix a lot of the problems with the current setup:

  • They sought to make each political group leader’s allowance proportional to the number of seats their group held on the council;
  • They wanted to abolish allowances for deputy chairs of committees (who in most cases do very little) especially as this takes us over government guidelines. Regulations suggest that only up to 50% of councillors should be getting allowances. Currently it’s 61% in Brighton & Hove and could be 67% if all available allowances were being taken.
  • They also sought to resolve the balance between ‘front-line’ and ‘back-bench’ councillors by increasing the basic allowance by 1% but not increasing allowances for senior roles.
  • Finally all of this reform would lower the overall salary bill for councillors by about £18k a year.

Now whilst only two Greens have special allowances, most of the Labour group (I think all but one from memory) and a large number of Tories enjoy such allowances as did the LibDem group (now no longer as Cllr Watkins has become an independent).

So it was disappointing, but unsurprising self-interest, when Tories and Labour voted down the panel’s recommendations last year — after an extraordinarily long delay in actually getting the report onto an agenda to vote on it. It was supposed to be voted on in March 2010 but didn’t actually emerge onto an agenda until October 2010, only for it to fall and the status-quo remain.

Well the Panel have done more good work on best practice, and good on them. They’ve stuck to their guns in seeking to reduce the number of special allowances and so on. Their work is coming to the Governance Committee this Tuesday. But guess what, the recommendation on the report (I assume on advice of the Conservative administration) is to keep the existing scheme of allowances for another year!

I shall be proposing a Green amendment to that, seeking to bring in the Panel’s recommended scheme which will be fairer, help us meet best practice and save £18k a year. Will any other parties dare to challenge the status quo and join us in supporting the amendment…? We shall see!

(I’m still mulling my traditional report of Thursday’s full council meeting. It was, despite a not particularly high-stakes agenda, rather a remarkable evening.)

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