Greenwich Council

Agenda item.

Members' Allowances Scheme 2019/20

Decision:

1. Noted that all Councils are required to make annually a scheme for the payment of allowances to Councillors and the scheme must include a basic allowance payable equally to all Councillors, and may include provision for special responsibility allowances.

 

2. Agreed that Allowances should be increased by 2% in line with the local government pay settlement as recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel.

 

3. Subject to decision 2 above, agreed the Members’ Allowances Scheme for 2019/20 as attached at Appendix 1 of the report.

 

4. Agreed that the Members’ Allowances Scheme in Part 6 of the Council’s Constitution be updated accordingly.

 

n.b. Appendix 1 of the report will be updated to increase allowances in line with decision 2 above.

Minutes:

In moving the recommendations in the report, the Leader of the Council commented that the Members allowances scheme was introduced so that council chambers across the country could look more like the populations they were elected to serve, to ensure that politics and elected office was open to everyone. He said that politics was at its best when at its most diverse and that the allowances scheme has helped to ensure the diversity of the Chamber.

 

Councillor Spencer Drury questioned whether the item was constitutionally acceptable as it had not been published five clear days before the meeting, and he queried how late publication affected the ability to submit written questions within the constitutional prescribed deadline. 

 

The Head of Legal Services advised that the legal position had been set out in the response given to the written question. He further advised that in such a situation as a late publication of an item the Mayor of the Council had the discretion to consider a written question relating to that item after the deadline.

 

Councillor Spencer Drury proposed, and was seconded by Councillor Matt Hartley, the motion that the Council adjourn under A1.83 of Part 4 of the Council’s Constitution.

 

Councillor Drury suggested it would be extremely damaging to the Council's reputation to proceed as matters had been mishandled with the report being published late. The constitution were the rules of the game that they had all agreed to play by. What was even more damaging was that the decision by the Labour Group to change the deadline for Members' questions early in the municipal year meant there was no opportunity for opposition members to read and ask questions on the report.

 

He commented that the Leader of the Council might reply that a version of the report was circulated to Conservative group leader last week but that might suggest an attempt at a backroom deal rather than putting it in the public domain so everyone could see what was going on as the constitution required. It could give the impression that something untoward was going on or that Councillors had got their snouts in the trough; it would confirm the worst suspicions of local residents about politicians that they were not listening and were hiding things.

 

He requested Council vote to adjourn and the report be delayed to the next Council meeting, or another Council meeting could be arranged for two or three weeks' time, and that would enable the Council to consider the item in a constitutional way where the public had had time to look at this particular issue.

 

Councillor Thorpe refuted that there was a single person in the Chamber who was there to have their ‘snouts in the trough’. All Members worked hard on behalf of their constituents. It was acknowledged that the report was published late. It was denied that there had been some backroom negotiation in sending the report to the Leader of the opposition, rather he had been keen to ensure that the Leader of the opposition had seen it so that they could debate it in the Chamber. The reason there was an Independent Panel was so they could avoid doing things which could be seen in a way of politicians all in it together.

 

The Mayor put the motion to the vote and with the minority party in favour and the majority party against it was not carried.

 

Councillor Jackie Smith asked that Councillor Spencer Drury apologise to the Chief Executive and the Head of Legal Services for claiming that the matter was unconstitutional. Councillor Spencer Drury retorted that was the impression that had been given. The Mayor called for order.

 

Councillor Matt Hartley proposed the amendment 1 to the report as published on the supplementary agenda. He commented that the Leader of the Council had been complaining about pressure on the Council's finances but now he was trying to force through not his first but his second increase in allowances in less than 12 months. Councillor Hartley stated it was not clear from the report what they were actually voting on but he understood it was a 2% increase. He noted that the report stated that there was no budgetary provision for the increase. He referred to the Conservative group’s budget proposals. He urged the Leader of the Council to abandon the proposed increase as completely inappropriate at a time of such financial constraint.

 

Councillor Matt Clare seconded the proposed amendment 1. Councillor Clare said they served as Councillors not for cash but for all of their communities. He suggested that the increase was the latest in a line of examples where taxpayers' money was not being treated with the respect it deserved

 

Councillor David Gardner spoke against the amendment 1. He said the Council has been exemplary in terms of its custodial custodianship of the public finances. He noted that allowances had been frozen for seven years from the onset of austerity. He noted that the increase in allowances had been recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel. He said it was a very modest proposal that actually ensured that they could continue to have inclusive Councillors that were representative of  their community with the ability to carry out both their Member roles and their functions as community champions balancing it with their work and other commitments.

 

Councillor Spencer Drury asked for clarification on what they were being asked to agree. Councillor David Gardner replied it was a 2% increase in allowances across the board.

 

The Mayor put the proposed amendment 1 to the vote and with the minority group in favour and majority group against it was not carried.

 

Councillors Cornforth, Morrow and Okereke left the meeting for the remainder of the item.

 

Councillor Nigel Fletcher proposed the amendment 2 to the report as published on the supplementary agenda. He commented on the recent increase to the Chief Whip’s allowance and to the creation of the two new project assistant posts without consultation. He felt it was wrong that allowances could be agreed when there had been no budgetary provision made for those new allowances. He contended that it would have been better to have come up with a package of measures that cut the cost of politics overall so that there was no net cost or less cost to the taxpayer. He suggested that the proposals showed contempt for the people of the borough.

 

Councillor Danny Thorpe as a point of correction said Council had been advised that the allowances for the new posts fell within existing budget parameters.  Councillor Thorpe said the insinuation that he had contempt for the people for the borough was wholly unacceptable and requested that the comment be withdrawn. Councillor Nigel Fletcher stated he was not making a personal attack but rather that he was saying that the policy that was being outlined showed contempt for the people of this borough.

 

Councillor Roger Tester seconded the proposed amendment 2.

 

Councillors Spencer Drury and Matt Hartley spoke in support of the proposed amendment 2. It was said that the proposals went against the Independent Panel’s recommendation that “no more than 50% of councillors should receive a special responsibility allowance”, and that there were still questions unanswered as to how the project assistances were appointed.

 

The Mayor put the proposed amendment 2 to the vote and with the minority group in favour and majority group against it was not carried.

 

Councillor Danny Thorpe noted that under the Constitution the Leader of the Council had the power to appoint people to some positions and how that was done was down to the Leader in terms of his own political group. Councillor Thorpe stated they were very clear in their forward plan on what they were delivering for the people of the borough and they were more than happy to be held to account on that.

 

Members debated the item.

 

Councillor Matt Hartley commented that the extra spending could have been used elsewhere. He suggested that consideration be given to reducing the size of the Cabinet from eight to six Members the savings from which could cover the proposed allowances increase.

 

Councillor Norman Adams commented on the activities that Councillors perform, the hours they spend not only in the Council itself but in the community, the surgeries, the interviews and visits.

 

Councillor Nigel Fletcher was not happy with the report as written because the recommendation did not make it explicitly clear what was proposed.  He noted that there was no budgetary provision for the increase, and queried how was it then possible to talk about financial accountability and about financial responsibility.

 

Councillor Miranda Williams highlighted that Councillors did not get a pension or paternity and maternity leave. She emphasised that if they wanted the Chamber to be representative of the borough’s demographic then there needed to be sensible remuneration.

 

Councillor Ann-Marie Cousins highlighted that the allowance went some way to covering expenses incurred as a result of Councillor’s activities. Councillor Cousins asked the opposition that if the increase was such a moral dilemma for them whether they would take it.

 

Councillor Sarah Merrill commented that the Conservative government had not sought to curb some of the top pay of the fat cats in the country while the Conservative group was opposed to the allowance increase.

 

Councillor Jackie Smith commented on the amount of money the Government had deprived the Council of since 2010. Councillor Smith remarked on the petty attacks on the Leader and the Labour group that had been made that night.

 

Councillor Matt Clare said they needed Councillors from all sections of the economy, public sector and the private sector. Following a comment made by Councillor Clare there was disruption in the Chamber. The Mayor called for order.

 

The Mayor put the item to the vote and with the majority group in favour and the minority group against it was

 

Resolved -

 

1.      That all Councils are required to make annually a scheme for the payment of allowances to Councillors and the scheme must include a basic allowance payable equally to all Councillors, and may include provision for special responsibility allowances be noted.

 

2.       That Allowances should be increased by 2% in line with the local government pay settlement as recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panelbe agreed.

 

3.       That subject to decision 2 above, the Members’ Allowances Scheme for 2019/20 as attached at Appendix 1 of the reportbe agreed. (n.b. Appendix 1 of the report will be updated to increase allowances in line with decision 2 above.)

 

4.       That the Members’ Allowances Scheme in Part 6 of the Council’s Constitution be updated accordinglybe agreed.

Supporting documents: