In these continuing times of austerity, when every week there is news of more services being cut, Councillors at East Suffolk Council are set to agree a rise of more than £2,600 in their basic allowances this week – an increase of more than 50%.
This is at a time when the Labour Group at Suffolk County Council has warned that deep cuts to children’s services are causing ‘irreparable damage to Suffolk’s children’.
The comments come after analysis of official figures by Action for Children, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, The Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau which showed that Suffolk’s available funding for children’s services had fallen by £24.7 million, a 26% reduction from 2010.
In addition SCC has cut 41 of its 117 health visitors meaning that the final two of the five mandatory developmental checks that health visitors carry out for families – antenatal, new baby, six-eight weeks, one year and two years – are now having to be carried out by community nurses.
Now I know these particular services are run by Suffolk County and not East Suffolk – but as far as local people are concerned – cuts are cuts – and let’s not forget we are now paying to have our brown bins collected, pot holes in our roads still continue to be left unattended for months and in recent weeks many roads have been flooded including Walton High Street due to lack of council workman to clear drains.
An independent panel has returned with recommendations to increase the basic allowance for all East Suffolk councillors up to £7,500 per year – £2,616.60 more than the current allowance of £4,883.40.
Note that this is just the basic allowance. Many councillors are paid a lot more than this according to the responsibilities they have – AND they can claim travel expenses on top.
For instance, the leader of the council’s role will see a £4,000 increase, the deputy leader nearly £3,000 and cabinet members nearly £1,600.
The amount Councillors actually claim varies – but in 2018-2019 before the councils merged Waveney Leader Mark Bee got over £21,000, SCDC leader Ray Herring got over 20,000, and amongst Councillors in Felixstowe Steve Gallant got £12,695, Andy Smith got over £13,000 and Mike Deacon nearly £9000,
You can see the full report for 2018-2019 allowance claims here: https://www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/assets/Your-Council/Councillors/Members-Allowances-Paid/089-Suffolk-Coastal-Waveney-Members-allowances-paid-2018-19.pdf
According to the panel’s report, “the workload for members had increased significantly – double in most cases – the role had been redefined and could not be viewed as part time”.
It added that in some cases members were also having to travel more, including round trips of three or four hours, which also needed to be factored in.
Could that be something to do with the fact that the SCDC and Waveney Councillors decided to join up into one super council but then realised that meetings would have to be held equal distant between the two centres of Melton and Lowestoft – or councillors have would have to travel to one end of Suffolk or the other?
The matter will be debated at the authority’s full council meeting this week but Conservative Council Leader Steve Gallant has defended the 53% increase.
He said it reflected the roles, responsibilities and workload of councillors in 2020.
“The total cost of the proposed basic allowance amounts to an overall saving of over £112,000 per year, compared to the payments previously made to members.
Meanwhile, overall, member allowances is only a tiny fraction of the council’s total budget, with payments to councillors representing only around 2% of our net spend on critical local services that our communities want and need.”
So that makes it all right then does it?
There might have been a saving on the basic allowance due to a reduction in the number of councillors – but that will soon be swallowed up in the extra allowances claimed – and what about the huge costs for rebranding for East Suffolk? And the cost of running two separate headquarters?
He goes on to say “It is also worth remembering that, unlike a Member of Parliament, for example, payments to councillors do not represent a full time salary. However, councillors still work very long hours and councils need to attract more and different people to the role, who may otherwise be put off because of financial concerns.
“The panel has recognised this issue and are recommending that the council investigate ways to attract people from different backgrounds, with a wide range of skills”
So when did serving your community come down to money? There are many hundreds of volunteers up and down our County running services and charities without any remuneration at all, working long hours and often out of pocket keeping services going to vulnerable parts of the community, services that have been axed due to council cuts.
When will our Councillors wake up to the fact that this only increases the perceived view of them that they are in it for what they can get out of it?
Everyone would accept that Councillors should not be out of pocket with travel expenses – but voting in such a substantial increase at this time does not send a very good message out to the electorate,
When Babergh District Council increased its basic allowance by 25% in 2018, it prompted a public backlash as taxpayers could only expect pay rises in line with inflation in their jobs.
And as for trying to attract people from different backgrounds – Graham Elliott, leader of the East Suffolk Green group, puts it succinctly when he comments that he recognised the challenges of encouraging people from all walks of life to stand as councillors, but said the decision should have been made before the formation of the new council in April 2019 if they were serious about attracting new blood.