Allowance cash will be saved

PLANS to save £66,000 in allowances when the number of councillors is slashed has divided opinion.

In May there will be an all-out election with the number of wards reducing from 17 to 11 and councillors cut from 47 to 33.

The move will save Hartlepool Borough Council £66,000 in allowances.

Members of the cabinet committee say it is an “easy” saving to make towards the 2012-13 budget.

But members of the council’s scrutiny co-ordinating committee recommended keeping the £66,000 back in case an independent panel, currently reviewing allowances, recommends a rise in allowances due to the larger wards and increased number of people members are representing.

Hartlepool councillors currently receive a basic allowance of £5,767 and the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) has already met once.

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said: “I know that the IRP can recommend an increase or a decrease and I understand the logic of leaving money in.

“But I think that would be a slap in the face to the people that are losing front-line services and their jobs.”

He added that it was “morally wrong” to budget for an increase.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “Whatever the IRP comes back with then the council needs to react to that.

“That basic allowance is probably the easiest money to save.”

Labour councillors Ged Hall and Chris Simmons were happy to see the money taken out.

Independent councillor Cath Hill added: “If a future council wants to vote for an increase then they should have to find the money.”

But Labour councillor Marjorie James, chairman of the scrutiny co-ordinating committee, said it was a risk being managed, that the comments being made were “unfair” and that it could result in an “in-year” saving.

Coun James said: “Let full council have a grown up conversation based on the recommendations of the IRP.

“We should not assume that there will be an increase.”

The IRP is also looking into Mayor Drummond’s allowances after his appointment as chairman of Cleveland Police Authority.

Cabinet members also agreed to withdraw the Furniture Project reserve of £50,000, which was money set aside to kick-start a new scheme to provide white goods and furniture for single parents and families on low incomes to avoid them using credit stores.

Mayor Drummond said: “I feel extremely uncomfortable funding a new service when we are cutting everywhere else.”

Coun Simmons, Hill, Brash and Hall and independent councillor Hilary Thompson agreed.

But Coun James said: “This has been through scrutiny and had a lot of support.”

Mayor Drummond said the cabinet was supportive of the idea but wanted to see a full business case, due to go to Coun Brash’s housing and transition portfolio in March.

The budget recommendations will go to full council on Thursday at 7pm at the Civic Centre.