Hartlepool councillors recommended to give themselves 31% allowance rise

Councillors in Hartlepool are being recommended to give themselves an almost 31% rise in allowances.

Tuesday, 20th June 2017, 8:52 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th June 2017, 2:53 pm
Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

The Basic Allowance that councillors receive is proposed to increase from £5,953 to £7,792 a year.

The increase of £1,839 – equivalent to 30.8% – is being recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP).

John OConnell of the TaxPayers Alliance.

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It says the proposed increase is needed to bring Hartlepool Borough Council more in line with neighbouring authorities, and would encourage more people to stand as councillors.

But it has been blasted by some councillors and the TaxPayers’ Alliance as it comes just months after Hartlepool taxpayers were hit with a 4.9% increase in their bills.

And public sector workers, including at local councils, are currently subject to a 1% pay rise cap.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Residents will be rightly incensed.

Hartlepool Borough Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

“Hartlepool residents haven’t seen a single cut in council tax in the last 20 years and families continue to struggle with rising tax bills.

“At a time when people across the public and the private sectors have seen pay freezes or worse, it is preposterous for the panel to recommend a 30% increase in councillors’ allowances.

“Taxpayers expect their hard-earned cash to go towards essential services like adult social care, not to line the pockets of local politicians.”

Councillors will vote on the issue at Thursday night’s Full Council meeting.

John OConnell of the TaxPayers Alliance.

If approved, the move will cost the council about another £73,000 this year.

A council report states: “The Basic Allowance needs to be set at a level to broaden the range of people who in future would consider standing to become a councillor.

“In this regard the IRP believe that the Basic Allowance needs to be set at a level which compensates people of working age, including self-employed people, who need to reduce their working hours to undertake the duties of a councillor effectively.

“The IRP believe this is particularly important in terms of compensating councillors who take on additional commitments to serve on committees and outside bodies.”

Hartlepool Borough Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

The report adds while Hartlepool is the smallest unitary authority in the North East, its members have the same responsibilities as councillors on larger councils.

It says: “In this regard the IRP believe that this makes it even more important that remuneration reflects these responsibilities.”

At £5,953, the current basic allowance is the lowest of all 12 councils in the North East. The average stands at £9,161.

Durham County Council has the highest at £13,300, while Newcastle’s is £8,775 and Sunderland’s is £8,369.

Of the four councils that are part of the Tees Valley Combined Authority, Hartlepool is also the lowest.

Redcar and Cleveland Council members receive £9,550, Stockton councillors get £9,300, Darlington’s is £8,027 and Middlesbrough’s is £6,130.

The proposed increase is based on the average for the Tees Valley councils including Hartlepool.

The report says even if the increase went ahead. Hartlepool would still have the lowest average cost per councillor in the area at £10,900, and the lowest cost per resident at £3.89 compared to other four Tees Valley authorities.

Four years ago, Hartlepool councillors rejected proposed increases in their Basic Allowance of £250 a year over three years.

It followed a four-year freeze in allowances in line with that experienced by local government employees.

They decided the allowance should increase only when council employees got rises in line with the cost of living.

The report added: “As the previous IRP recommendations only covered the period to April 2015, the Basic Allowance has remained at £5,953 and has not been increased despite there being cost of living pay award increases for council employees of 1% from 1st April 2016 and 1% from 1st April 2017.”

Councillors who have other responsibilities, including chairing policy committees, receive an additional one-off Special Responsibility Allowance.

The level of allowance is based on a percentage of the Basic Allowance and varies according to the role.

As chairman of the Finance and Policy Committee, council leader, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher receives an additional £17,859. Under the proposed changes that would increase to £23,376.

Coun Akers-Belcher declined to comment ahead of the meeting.

It is proposed to remove Special Responsibility Allowances for the chairs of two Neighbourhood Forums, and to ditch separate payments for phone expenses and travel/subsistence within the borough

Rise is ‘complete waste of money’

Independent councillor Paul Thompson described the proposed increase in councillors’ allowances as “a complete waste of money” and does not think it will encourage more people into the role.

He said: “I think it’s utterly distasteful to be even considering any pay rise at the minute, given the fact this will put just short of £75,000 pressure on Hartlepool council a year.

“This is all done under the auspices of trying to get more people to stand.

“It is the current set-up that dissuades people and the fact that meetings are during the day time.

“Approximately £2,000 difference isn’t going to make a difference to get anyone to give up or change their career.

“We are there to serve the people not to help ourselves.

“We were told council tax had to go up because the council is cash-strapped, yet here we are three months later looking to consider giving ourselves a 31% pay rise. I will be voting against it and encourage other councillors to do the same.”

Conservative group leader Councillor Ray Martin-Wells defended the proposals.

He said: “Hartlepool is currently the lowest allowance in Tees Valley, in fact it’s one of the lowest in the country.

“Even with the proposed increase, Hartlepool would still be the lowest cost per resident in the whole of the Tees Valley at £3.89 per resident, with the next closest Middlesbrough on £3.94 going all the way up to Redcar and Cleveland on £5.59.

“Whilst it may be a relatively large percentage increase, in real terms it is not a massive amount.”

UKIP group leader on the council Councillor John Tennant said: “Personally, I don’t really see the need for an increase in councillors’ allowances.

“A lot of people out there are struggling to find work and make ends meet.”

What you said

There were mixed views on the streets of Hartlepool about the proposed increase to councillors allowances.

Kevin Smailes, aged 59, of Belle Vue, Hartlepool, said: “They’re doing a good job for me. I say give it to them.

“They are doing a lot for the town.”

Nicola Flourie, a 41-year-old full-time mum of St Paul’s Road, said: “If they are doing something for the community then they should get a rise.

“I live on St Paul’s Road and I have never seen a councillor at all. If they do something by all means let them get a wage but if they’re not doing anything then no.

“I think the rise should go to the fire department not councillors.”

David Jones, 56, of Oxford Road, said: “My wife works for the council and has had the equivalent of a 1% rise so that’s utterly scandalous.

“How can they justify that when they are paying everybody else virtually nothing?”

John Farnaby, 73, a retired truck driver, said: “It’s rather a lot really. I don’t think they are worth that.

“It’s not bad for what they do I would imagine.”