SENIOR councillors say it would be “abhorrent” to even consider voting in favour of a rise in their basic allowance when council staff are losing their jobs due to massive budget cuts.
Councillors have spoken out ahead of a report by Hartlepool Borough Council’s Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP), which is examining what impact reducing the number of councillors and changing ward boundaries has had.
No recommendations have been put forward yet, but the panel is due to meet again ahead of publishing its report. It comes as the local authority, 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 four years.
The Mail asked all 33 councillors, plus Mayor Stuart Drummond, whether or not they supported a rise in the basic allowance that they all receive.
The basic allowance is £5,767, which is the lowest allowance in the North-East.
None of the councillors that responded said they were in favour or a rise, with an overwhelming 85 per cent clearly stating they would be against such a move.
The IRP is looking at what impact reducing the number of councillors from 47 to 33 in the May election will have on the basic allowance.
Senior councillors, including cabinet members and Geoff Lilley group leader of Putting Hartlepool First, believe it is up to civic leaders to show an example in the current economic climate.
Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher and Conservative group leader Ray Wells both said they wanted to wait until the IRP presents its findings at a future meeting of the full council.
The Mail survey asked if they are in favour of an increase in the basic allowance for councillors and to explain the reasons behind their answer.
They were also asked if they believe there should be an increase in the special responsibility allowances (for chairman of committees etc) under the new committee structure.
Mayor Stuart Drummond said he has always supported having fewer councillors who are paid more, but said given the current financial situation, it would be “ill-advised” to increase allowances at the moment.
Independent councillor Paul Thompson, cabinet member for finance and corporate services, went even further.
He said: “I think it is abhorrent to even consider raising any allowances for councillors at a time that the local authority is looking to make significant cuts and staff have had their pay frozen for several years now.”
There was also little support, from those that responded to the Mail survey, for an increase in the special responsibility allowances (SRA), which are paid to chairmen of committees, group leaders and chairmen of the various council forums.
Councillors can only receive one SRA.
In May, the system of governance at Hartlepool Borough Council will change from a mayoral system to a committee system made up of a series of committees of councillors.
See today’s Mail to find out what your councillor said.