Wales Online reported recently on an increase in councillor allowances on Cardiff City Council:
“The basic allowance has gone up this year by £100 to £13,400. Cardiff is allowed to offer 19 senior salaries and all of those are being used. The amounts are determined by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales. That group was set up in 2008 to recommend the levels of salaries, allowances and expenses payable to councillors.
“The changes to the cabinet under new leader Huw Thomas has seen another cabinet position introduced, which is a rise of £32,100 to the wage bill. But he has reduced the number of committee chairs by one, saving £22,100.
“The increase in basic salary means an overall rise of £17,500 in the bill.”
Of course I can see the objection to councillors being able to decide their own pay. But the safeguard against that abuse is to set a maximum level. The problem in Wales is that councillors are not able to set a lower level of pay. The Panel wished to avoid the “unedifying” risk of a “race to the bottom”. The Labour-run Welsh Assembly agreed. This is an approach completely at odds with local democracy.
The basic allowance of £13,400 paid to every councillor in Wales is higher than the basic allowance paid to any councillor in a London borough – Croydon has the highest in London at £11,239.
Most outrageous of all is that (at the Remuneration Panel’s behest) the chairmen of various scrutiny committees each get an extra £22,100 – that is on top of the £13,400. Typically they have ten meetings a year – so £2,000 a meeting for each councillor who takes on the arduous duty of chairing the proceedings. What do the Cardiff Council Taxpayers feel about having to pick up the bill for this arrangement?
In England the payments to chair these scrutiny committees tend to be lower. But the objection is not just the waste of money. The system of patronage held by a Council leader has the perverse outcome of ensuring that any real scrutiny of decision-making is much less likely than if the role was unpaid.