Earlier this month, councillors on Conservative-run Surrey County Council voted to give themselves a huge increase in their allowances.
This followed a decision to increase Council Tax this year by a democracy-dodging 1.99 per cent. As they did in 2013. It 2012 it was 2.99 per cent.
The allowance increases – which exceeded those proposed by the Independent Remuneration Panel – included:
- A 59 per cent increase in the Council Leader’s special responsibility allowance – rising from £27,000 to £43,000.
- A 60 per cent increase in the Council Deputy Leader’s special responsibility allowance – rising from £19,500 to £31,250.
- A 36 per cent increase in Cabinet Members’ special responsibility allowances – rising from £16,500 to £22,500
- A 20 per cent increase in the Council Chairman’s special responsibility allowance – rising from £15,000 to £18,000
- A 60 per cent increase in the Council Vice Chairman’s special responsibility allowance – rising from £5,000 to £8,000
- A 33 per cent increase in Local Committee Chairmen’s special responsibility allowances – rising from £6,000 to £8,000
- A 5 per cent increase in all Councillors’ basic allowance – rising from £11,791 to £12,418
Two Conservative councillors – Cllr Carol Coleman and Cllr Marsha Moseley – voted against. That was a brave decision which will not have pleased their colleagues.
Andy Silvester, Campaign Manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“All 46 councillors who voted through these hikes in their own allowances should hang their heads in shame. When the Council is having to find £72 million in savings this year, Surrey residents will be staggered that their elected representatives felt it appropriate to increase their own allowances like this. Council Tax has been raised three years running because civic leaders claim that they are short of cash and staff have of course been subject to a pay freeze, yet councillors have found this additional money for themselves. These rises are nothing short of obscene and demonstrate a very skewed sense of priorities for those running County Hall. Surrey taxpayers have every right to feel badly let down.”
I have argued for some time that councillors’ allowances should be abolished.
After the MPs’ expenses scandal there is no longer a presumption from the electorate that those involved in politics are motivated by noble ideals of public service rather than seeking to line their own pockets – if there ever was such a presumption.
I happen to think that most councillors – of all parties – do have the right motives.
The amount of work put in by many candidates at elections – with no guarantee of success – would not be rational if purely financially motivated. Often councillors have previously done significant unpaid work, for instance as school governors. Is that all about chasing some distant ambition of an annual allowance?
There are also plenty of lazy councillors – often in safe seats – who certainly do cling on for the money.
The point, though, is not to allocate percentages to these categories of energetic and lethargic councillors. It is to recognise that councillors’ credibility with residents is diminished by their being paid.
Reducing councillor allowances would help restore trust in local politics. Surrey County Council has taken a massive leap in the wrong direction.