Council Meeting Approves Councillors' Huge Allowance Rise

Opposition leader pledges to give increase to charity as move branded a ‘disgrace'

Hounslow full council meeting on March 2 was live streamed on Youtube
Hounslow full council meeting on March 2 was live streamed on Youtube

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A move to raise allowances for Hounslow councillors for some lead members by 56 per cent, has been blasted as a 'disgrace' and 'wrong time, wrong place'.

A full council meeting of the local authority on March 2 approved the budget for the next financial year which will see residents paying an extra 4.99 per cent in council tax.

But a plan to increase councillors' allowances, and backdate the amount to April 1, 2020, costing £411,000, was also given the green light despite some backlash.

Opposition Conservative councillor Joanna Biddolph, said it was a 'disgrace' to raise council tax and that 'to reward it to yourselves is unbelievable'.

Councillors elected to local authorities are not paid a salary but are granted allowances to help them support their duties.

Members who also take on extra roles such as leadership positions, also receive ‘Special Responsibility Allowances' (SRAs).

According to the changes, the leader's SRA will be increased from £27,200 to £40,000 a year – still below the London councils' average of £44,084.

Cabinet members will get a raise to £20,000 a year, up from £12,800. The London average cited in the report is £23,000.

The leader of the opposition role currently is granted £2,168 in SRA, despite the London average being £13,882. From the new changes approved it will hike the figure to £11,000.

The basic allowance for all councillors for 2020/21 will be increased by 2.75 per cent to £11,576 in line with local government staff pay awards.

Conservative party opposition leader Gerald McGregor said he will give any increase awarded to his role to charity out of the principle the increase was 'quite simply the wrong place, wrong time'.

Conservative colleague Joanna Biddolph, who was formerly leader of the opposition, said the £2,000 a year for the role was an 'insult' for the difficult role, but while she previously called for a review of allowances to regularise the below-average amounts, she blasted the details and timing of the plan.

'What I didn't see coming was the greedy expansion in the number of SRAs,' she said.

'The accepted rule according to the Independent Panel Review is no more than half the councillors should receive SRAs. That would mean 30 here, instead what have we got? 43, almost 75 per cent.'

Cllr Biddolph added, 'At this time now when so many people are struggling, so many people have lost their jobs, people are living on the breadline in greater numbers than they were before, these SRAs are self-indulgent and self-serving, they should be withdrawn and revised.'

The Conservative group urged for the plan to be paused and implemented at a later date, but Labour councillor Theo Dennison said while he agreed the timing was a concern, someone at some point would have to 'bite the bullet' to raise the 'pitiful' allowances in Hounslow compared to the rest of London to encourage badly needed 'new blood' to join the council.

Council leader Steve Curran also admitted the timing is a challenge, but told members there has been no allowance rise since councillors took a 20 per cent cut in SRAs in 2010.

He added, 'We are in the majority of cases still below the average for SRAs in London and that's not right, we do need to attract younger people, professional people, trade unionists etc. into becoming councillors.

'Because I'm afraid at the moment it makes it very difficult for younger people who have got a job and have a career to think about giving up that to become a full time councillor if they took up a cabinet post or leader or deputy.'

Finance member Shantanu Rajawat also supported the report in including parental leave so there would be no hindrance for people in taking up roles who want to start a family.

He added, 'This is not politics, this is about attracting the right people for the job.'

Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter

March 3, 2021

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