Recently I reported proposals from Conservative-run Surrey County Council for a big increase in councillor allowances.
They decided on an even bigger increase than the one proposed by their Independent Remuneration Panel.
Now there has been a partial retreat. The Council leader Cllr David Hodge says:
“When I became leader, I promised to listen, assess, reflect and decide on the balance of matters and take decisions always in the best interest of Surrey residents.
“I became a councillor not for personal gain but to try and make a difference to the communities I represent and as leader that now means the whole of Surrey. That remains my firm and only commitment.
“I believe that the council’s decision on the allowance to be paid to the leader of this council, in the light of the large and onerous responsibilities that this post carries was reached by members on the basis of detailed and careful consideration of all the relevant factors. Having taken no part in those deliberations, I respect the maturity of their decision-making and the conclusions they reached.
“This council chamber is one of the key institutions of representative democracy that started in Surrey nearly 800 years ago. I respect that. That is why I have waited until today to state my personal position.”
“I understand and respect the decision made by the council on allowances and the reasons for it. I agree with that decision. Nevertheless, at this moment I have made a personal decision to accept only the level of allowance recommended by the IRP. My deputy has made a similar decision.”
So that is progress but it is not good enough. First of all there were a whole range of huge increases for other councillors – 36 per cent for Cabinet Members, 33 per cent for committee chairmen, and so on. There is no suggestion that these are not being claimed.
Secondly, this reference to “at this moment” and “personal decision” are weak. What should happen is that the increases should be cancelled – not claimed or not claimed according to Cllr Hodge’s whim.
Thirdly, there has been no apology.
Fourthly, there has been a lack of transparency with the refusal to make any further comment.
Fifthly, there should not be any increase at all – not even the one proposed by the panel.
There we are. A move in the right direction but it is hardly a cause for celebration that Cllr Hodge has made such a grudging concession.