Panel recommends allowance rise

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

A REPORT has recommended councillors be given a £250 per year rise in their basic allowance for the next three years – despite Hartlepool Borough Council axing jobs in a bid to make £20m of savings.

But senior councillors say they should be setting an example and have vowed to reject the increase.

The recommendation has been made by the council’s Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) ahead of the mayoral system being axed in May in favour of a new committee system.

The basic allowance is currently £5,767 – the lowest in the North-East – but it is recommended to increase that to £6,017 from next month.

The IRP’s recommendation is based on increased workloads and because members have not had a rise since April 2009.

But it comes as the council, which has seen dozens of job losses and a pay freeze for staff in recent years, is faced with slashing £20m from its £90m budget over the next three years.

The IRP has also made recommendations about the special responsibility allowances (SRA) paid to chairs of licensing and planning committees, neighbourhood forums and chairs of the various policy committees under the new system.

There will no longer be any need for the elected mayor’s allowance of £58,135 and the overall number of SRAs given out will drop from 19 to 12 under the new system, meaning an annual saving of around £120,000.

The leader of the council, who will also chair the finance and policy committee, will receive an SRA of £18,051 on top of the basic allowance.

The new position will be filled by the leader of the largest party in the council chamber, currently Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

Meanwhile, the chair of the council and chairs of the four policy committees will all receive an SRA of £6,017.

Under the new system, it is recommended the majority group leader allowance be axed, the principal group leader allowance reduced and secondary group leader allowance scrapped all together.

The IRP has been examining what impact reducing the number of councillors from 47 to 33 and changing ward boundaries has had.

The panel, chaired by John Taylor, is a group of lay people assembled by the local authority to advise on levels of allowances.

Mr Taylor said: “The panel carried out a very detailed review of councillors’ allowances prior to making its recommendations.

“Comparisons show that Hartlepool Council pays the lowest basic responsibility allowance of all the North East councils and allowances have been frozen since 2009.

“We considered the implications of the basic allowance in attracting people to become councillors as well as compensating them for loss of earnings.

“The panel also gave consideration to the increased workload for councillors after the number of councillors reduced from 47 to 33 in 2012.

“We feel that all of the recommendations put forward are fair and reflect the changes that will be introduced when the council changes from a mayoral system to a committee system in May of this year.”