Does it pay to be a councillor?

WH 130614 Mayor Making at Worthing Town Hall. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-140613-133359001
WH 130614 Mayor Making at Worthing Town Hall. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-140613-133359001
  • Three of four coastal West Sussex authorities approve allowance increases
  • Leader under fire for changing panel’s suggestions
  • Disparity between allowances ‘enormous’

COUNCILLOR allowances can be a thorny topic for hard-pressed taxpayers – but how much do elected officials actually earn?

Three of the four district and borough councils in coastal West Sussex have approved increased allowances in the last three months.

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Worthing, Adur and Chichester councillors will be able to claim higher allowances from April, while Arun – currently paying the highest basic rate – has no plans to review its rates.

This will mean councillors with no special responsibilities, such as leaders, cabinet members or committee chairmanships, will earn a basic allowance of between £4,129 and £5,166.

Dia Chakravarty, political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers will be disappointed. At a time when difficult decisions are having to be made across the public sector, councillors must retain their moral authority when it comes to keeping costs down.

“Accepting a pay rise when people are facing job losses simply makes them look out of touch as they put a further financial strain on already struggling families.”

West Beach Residence Association get protection for trees. Cllr Geoff Patmore has finally got  a Tree Protection Order on woodland near his home on West Way in Lancing. Pictured is Cllr Geoff Patmore (UKIP).

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West Beach Residence Association get protection for trees. Cllr Geoff Patmore has finally got a Tree Protection Order on woodland near his home on West Way in Lancing. Pictured is Cllr Geoff Patmore (UKIP). Picture : Liz Pearce 0500915 LP1501927 SUS-150509-201454008

Allowances are ultimately decided by the councillors themselves.

But in a bid to make the process more democratic, councils are now obliged to consider recommendations by independent panels, made up of ordinary residents.

In Adur and Worthing, councillors supported the panel’s views last year.

Chichester District Council leader Tony Dignum, meanwhile, came under fire from one of his own backbenchers last month for tweaking some of the proposals made by residents.

Barry Hillman, chair of the Adur and Worthing joint remuneration panel, said the responsibility can be a tricky task.

“It is quite a challenge.,” he said.

“Obviously you are rather conscious about what it is going to cost but when you talk to the various councillors, as well as cabinet members their workload is enormous.

Mr Hillman, a former production plant manager, has been on the panel since it was created in the early 2000s.

His link to the council began thanks to his interest in allotments, attending meetings when the issue was discussed.

He believes critics of councillors receiving remuneration for their work do not realise the number of hours spent on the job.

He said: “I don’t think people realise how much work they are involved with and what they do behind the scenes.

“I can’t quite see how the leaders can do a normal job as well for the amount of time they spend on the job.”

Despite this stance, Mr Hillman and his panel’s recommendations did not go down well with all members.

Traditionally receiving much lower allowances than Worthing, the panel urged Adur councillors to improve large increases, to begin the process of equalising their earnings with their colleagues in the west.

The biggest beneficiaries were those with special responsibilities, who stand to earn up to 45 per cent more from April.

Criticising the proposals, Barry Mear, Adur Labour councillor for Cokeham ward, said: “A lot of people would say Worthing councillors are paid too much. And two wrongs don’t make a right.

“Any increase at this time is wrong and I will be returning any increase to the community, where it belongs.”

The highest-earning district councillors are the leaders – those who control the largest overall political party.

With special responsibility allowances on top of the basic earnings, leaders’ allowances across coastal West Sussex vary, but all rank in the region of £20,000 a year.

This compares to MPs’ salaries of £74,000 and non-elected council chief executives, who earn upwards of £100,000. West Sussex County councillors can claim a basic allowance of £11,000.

Geoff Patmore, UKIP councillor for Widewater ward, in Lancing, said councillors needed an allowance to compensate for out-of-pocket expenses, but argued the disparity between the cabinet and normal councillors was wrong.

He said: “Yes, we do need an allowance but I believe the leaders and the cabinet members have far too much as they are advised by officers and their decisions are based on what officers are telling them. The disparity between the leader and the rank and file is enormous.”

In response, Adur District Council leader Neil Parkin said: “Last time I worked it out I was earning about 17p an hour but I’ve had a rise since then, so I’m probably on 30p.

“It is pretty full on. During a typical week I lose a day’s work. I get around 80 emails a day and spend two hours sorting them.

“Luckily in my job as a cab driver I can do a bit in between jobs.”

For those with no special responsibility basic allowance compares poorly to the higher earners.

Worthing councillor for Marine ward, Edward Crouch, is the only member to produce a monthly time sheet on social media.

According to his 2015 tally, Mr Crouch, who sits on planning and licensing committees, completed 224 hours and 47 minutes’ work.

With an allowance of £4,645, he earned around £20 per hour.

He said: “I’m not going to roll out the slightly clichéd line about ‘pay peanuts, get monkeys’, but I do think that it is fair to compensate councillors at a similar rate to their full time employment, whatever that might be.

“We also need to be aware that if we want councillors from a mixture of backgrounds we need to recognise that for some people the allowance might be vital income to keep them afloat.

“I happen to know that for some, their allowance is a significant part of their income, and the people of Worthing need to decide what kind of person they want representing them.”

A spokesman for Arun District Council said the authority had no current plans to alter member allowances.

‘Greater authority, greater allowances’, councillor argues

COUNCILLORS should be given higher allowances to ‘attract the best candidates’, a long-serving public servant has argued.

Bob Smytherman, borough councillor for Tarring, has long argued for councillors to be given greater responsibility and, with it, extra allowances.

Mr Smytherman, also a county councillor for his Worthing division, said: “I don’t think councillors should receive a salary. However, I strongly believe there is a case for increasing the current allowances if we are to attract the best possible candidates to come forward to stand in local elections.

“With more and more responsibility being passed down to local authorities it is important that we recognise this with the allowances we pay our elected councillors”

Mr Smytherman last year made the case for a switch to a unitary authority for West Sussex.

In addition, he called for allowances of around £25,000, in recognition of the wider role councillors would play.

Labour’s last-remaining councillor on Arun District Council, Mike Northeast, who represents Courtwick with Toddington, does not believe a rise in allowances is necessary.

He said it was right to compensate councillors for their out-of-pocket expenses but making the role professional was the wrong move.

“I wouldn’t want any more,” he said.

“I don’t believe there should be professional councillors.

“You would be in it for your own means rather than being there as a representative for the people you are there to represent.”

Marine ward councillor for Worthing Edward Crouch agreed, but said those with poor attendance, without good reason, should see their allowances docked.

He added: “I think as soon as you make it a full-time role, you would lose the vital ingredient which is that councillors should be normal people, with normal lives who are connected with their town.

“Imagine the situation of political climbers clambering to get elected in safe seats as a career choice. Grim.”

Backbencher’s proposal to overturn leader’s amendment is defeated

INCREASED allowances have been approved by Chichester councillors – but a cabinet decision to tweak some of the independent panel’s proposals caused a stir.

Full council approved the majority of the remuneration panel’s recommendations, which included a rise in basic allowance from £4,541 to £4,725 from April.

But leader Tony Dignum’s amendments, which included further hiking deputy leader Eileen Lintill’s allowance, did not sit well with Tory backbencher Josef Ransley.

Mr Dignum said: “At the cabinet discussion there was a clear consensus regarding the deputy leader’s allowance.

“The differential of just £200 between the deputy leader and other cabinet members did not recognise the post’s special responsibility.

“She is doubling up with the leader on many occasions especially briefings and stands ready to deputise in my absence where necessary.”

Mrs Lintill is now set to receive a special responsibility allowance of £7,700, up from £6,863.

Mr Ransley tabled an alternative proposal, calling for the panel’s recommendations to be accepted as they were.

He said: “I am sitting here rather confused and trying to work out what is the point of having an independent remuneration panel who look at all these issues in great detail, give it due consideration, before they make recommendations for us then to ignore those recommendations.”

Mr Ransley said the process became ‘subjective’.

Mr Dignum replied: “The panel proposes, the council disposes.” He added that those affected by the changes had agreed they were logical.

Despite Mr Ransley’s proposal being seconded by Independent Gordon McAra and supported by a handful of Tory backbenchers, the proposal was lost and Mr Dignum’s changes were accepted.

Mr McAra said: “I was very tempted to suggest we didn’t get any increases at all but I feel that would ensure that I wouldn’t get any Christmas cards from anybody.”

The council last reviewed members’ allowances four years ago.

The remuneration panel was chaired by resident John Pressdee and two others.

Other recommendations included an increase for the chairman of planning, Bob Hayes, with his allowance rising from £4,751 to £6,000 in recognition of the significant work of the committee in leading regular meetings.

There was no change in the rates for travelling and subsitence.