Sunday, 16 January 2022

Councillors agree to raise allowances by up to nine per cent

Councillors agree to raise allowances by up to nine per cent

COUNCILLORS have voted to increase their allowances for the first time in six years.

Members of Oxfordshire County Council will each receive £12,000 a year from April 1, compared with £11,014 currently, an increase of just under nine per cent.

South Oxfordshire district councillors will see their allowance go from £5,186 to £5,585, a rise of almost 7.2 per cent.

Councillors are not paid a salary but are given a basic allowance to compensate them for their time.

The increases, the first since 2015, were recommended by an independent panel for each council.

County council leader Liz Leffman, a Liberal Democrat, will receive an annual allowance of £36,000, three times the basic one.

The combined allowances will cost £98,000.

At the district council, leader David Rouane, also a Lib-Dem, will receive an allowance of £22,340 compared with £20,741 previously.

The allowance for the leader of the largest opposition party on the council, which is currently the Conservatives, has been increased from 10 per cent of the council leader’s allowance to 25 per cent, or from £2,074 to £5,585. The independent panel said this allowance should reflect that the leader of the opposition fulfilled an important and time-consuming role but it should only apply if his or her group had at least eight members.

The Conservative group is currently 10-strong and led by Councillor Jane Murphy.

Councillor Rouane proposed that the threshold be removed, saying that many parties and independents were represented by small groups and it would be churlish to deny the leader of the opposition their allowance if their group slipped below eight members.

He added: “I hope we can accept the recommendations and move on quickly as there is nothing more undignified than councillors arguing about their own allowances.”

But Elizabeth Gillespie, who is leader of the two-strong South Oxfordshire Residents Team, said: “I think it’s profoundly undemocratic for the leader of only one of the opposition groups to be the only remunerated councillor. It gives distorted and undue weight to that position.”

David Bartholomew, a Conservative who represents Sonning Common, said allowances were important in allowing people of all backgrounds to join the council.

He said: “There are councillors here who are relatively affluent, perhaps holding multiple company directorships, and for them the allowance they receive is probably neither here nor there.

“But if we want to be an inclusive council then allowances that are paid do need to be carefully considered and people shouldn’t feel embarrassed about discussing them. If you are an hourly paid person, every hour you sacrifice to the council you might be sacrificing an hour of income.”

The council agreed to set up a task group to consider paying an allowance to members who take parental leave.

The increases were criticised at a meeting of Henley Town Council by Conservative councillor Will Hamilton.

He said: “I take a very dim view when allowances go up because I’m cautious about spending money and I think we have to be very careful when we’re spending public money.

“We cut our cloth accordingly at local level to help the county council out, particularly when they have such big issues like adult social care, the children’s centres, like the traffic and the roads and all of those things.

“In my view, there are more worthy departments that are desperate for cash than giving it to councillors.”

But Stefan Gawrysiak, who represents Henley Residents Group on the town, district and county councils, replied that the allowances had been independently assessed.

He said: “There are many councillors who can afford to do councillor jobs but many other councillors that can’t, so it’s quite right that councillors are rewarded for all the hard work that they do for their various communities.”

Town and district councillor Kellie Hinton said: “Allowances are important. I don’t think people realise that at town level we’re volunteers.

“That’s fine when you’re walking to the town hall for meetings but on the district council you need to use a car or public transport and it starts to cost a significant amount of money.

“If there weren’t allowances I couldn’t afford to be a district councillor. It takes up quite a lot of your time.

“Maybe if I was retired I could do that but we don’t want only retired people to be able to be on councils, we need representation of women and people of all ages. We need to make it as accessible as possible.”

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