At last night’s Broadland district full council meeting we were treated to the spectacle of the Tories spending 2 hours “debating” one agenda item (there were 19 agenda items and 330 pages of the full agenda). That item was a 14 page report with recommendations on councillors allowances by the Independent Review Panel (IRP). The council meeting started at 7 pm and soon after the report was introduced by the chair of the IRP (Peter Franzen). He said that the panel had done their best in the short time they had (interrupted by the general election) but that the recommendations were made on a rational basis from the limited data they had. He went on to say that Broadland Councillors were the lowest paid in Norfolk. When asked why the panel had not recommended increasing allowances up to the Norfolk average Franzen said that there were a couple of councils (West Norfolk & the Brecks) whose substantially larger allowances inflated the average. He was also asked why panel had not recommended the Broadland allowances be aligned with the much higher South Norfolk Councillor allowances. Franzen said that was an outstanding independent review of South Norfolk allowances so it would be premature. A past chair asked why the IRP had not proposed larger allowance for the chair because of all the functions the chair had to attend. Franzen responded that the government guidance was that special responsibility allowances (SRA) should only be given for significant extra responsibility and that attending functions was not a significant responsibility. The Tory councillors ignored that response. Franzen also pointed out that each SRA had to be evidence based and in some of the councillors requests for SRA to be awarded to specific councillor’s roles there was no evidence of special responsibility for those posts which would support recommending any allowance. The Tory councillors ignored that response as well.
The council then “debated” each of the 13 recommendations to increase various allowance (see below). They cherry picked, and voted to accept some and increase others as well as rewarding 4 of their colleagues with extra Special Responsibility Allowances which were not recommended by the IRP. All of the increases, and a couple of reductions, were proposed by Cllr Grattan seconded by Cllr Murrell then nodded through by the Tory majority with some token opposition by the lib dems (yellow Tories). Cllrs Grattan & Murrell dutifully read their scripts each time. The chair at least had the decency to abstain on the vote for her 68% allowance increase.
The IRP had also written that “The new scheme to be backdated (no earlier than May 2019) but the Panel has deferred the decision on the actual effective date to the Council.” Cllr Grattan misrepresented this to propose that the increases Tory councillors had just awarded themselves were backdated to May 2019 claiming that was “as recommended by the IRP”. Displaying either a woeful misunderstanding of English or an astounding mendacity.
Cllr Grattan proposed, and councillors voted for, the total allowance (including the basic allowance) for the leader of the main opposition (Lib Dems) to be increased by 49% when the IRP had recommended a reduction in the SRA to give an overall total allowance increase on 16%. Was that the price of support?
The councillors voted to agree with the IRP recommendation that “allowances to continue to be linked to the annual pay award for staff”. As they are keen on aligning their allowances with the remuneration of their staff one could ask if the councillors propose increasing their staff pay to catch up with 10 years of limited or no pay rises. Of course not, increase are only for the Tories.
Whilst they were at the trough Cllr Grattan also proposed that councillors should be able to claim 45p per mile for attendance at parish councils as it was an essential part of a councillor’s duties. Cllr Nurden argued that as the public transport in Broadland was so poor (a County not District council responsibility) they had to drive and should be reimbursed as a legitimate expenditure.
It was a circus with no real debate or opposition clearly staged and set up by the Tories who had no intention of following the recommendations except where it suited them.
In making the proposals Cllr Grattan just kept repeating that Broadland District councillors were the lowest paid in Norfolk, referred to the average for Norfolk district councillor’s and cited the amounts paid to the highest paying councils – conveniently ignoring Franzen’s comments about those councils being outriders. She also exercised that tired and mendacious argument that the increases were necessary for “inclusion”. An argument deployed by County councillors (some who also hold Broadland District council seats) when they voted to increase their allowances above an independent report’s recommendations and backdate the increase. The argument was supported by Cllr Riley who said that allowances needed to be at a level where a single parent (male or female) was not prevented from serving as a District councillor.
Apart from Cllr Roper’s principled opposition to the backdating and & Cllr Catchpole saying that she knew the level of allowances when she stood for election so they shouldn’t be backdated the only concern shown was the “optics”, that is how it would look to you, the council tax payers who will be funding the more than £70K per year overall increase in allowances.
Goodness knows when the council finished giving appropriate consideration to the rest of the 300+ pages of the agenda. Either they ran very late into the night, which is hardly an argument for inclusion, or they skipped it having done what they thought was the most important business —increasing their allowances.
After the councillors had voted to agree a more than doubling of the Special Responsibility Allowance for the Chair of the Licensing & Regulatory Committee a Tory wag called out “drinks are on you Steve” to the amusement of greedy Tories
Having finished lining their pockets with massive increases to their allowances the Councillors took a break just after 9 pm. Unfortunately we had to leave. A later item on the agenda was the decision to increase council taxes to pay for those increases in their allowance increases. I don’t know what was decided for that. Cllr Roper opined to me that the council had sufficient reserves to find the allowance increases.
It was beyond farce and something that the people who voted for them should see and remember. I am sure that the reason the council have made this outrageous decision so early in a council’s lifetime is so that electors will have forgotten by the time it comes to elect a new District council in 2023. Don’t, we should all take that opportunity to throw the greedy Tories out on their ears.
The following figures are to the best of my knowledge and notes.
Every councillor receives a Basic Allowance which was £3,712 pa and the council voted to accept the IRP’s recommendation to increase that to £4,865 pa – some 31.06%. It gives some flavour of the attitude and depth of understating of councillors when one question to Franzen was why IRP had not chosen a round figure of 30% or 32%. Franzen had to point out that the IRP had not plucked figures out of thin air because they were “round” but followed their evidence based methodology and data which gave that figure.
On top of that basic allowance all those with special responsibility receive a Special Responsibility Allowance – SRA. They vary depending on the position and are all linked to the allowance for the chair.
The figure below for the specific positions (as labelled in the IRP report) include the Basic Allowance. Headline figures only shown, full spreadsheet available here.
|Position||Previous Allowance||New Allowance||% increase|
|Leader of the Council||£12,154||£17,773||46%|
|Chairman of the Council||£5,213||£8,737||68%|
|Vice-Chairman of the Council||£4,461||£5,833||31%|
|Chairman of Planning Committee||£5,588||£8,737||56%|
|Chairman of Audit Committee||£4,839||£7,447||54%|
|Chairman of Licensing &Regulatory Committee||£4,839||£7,447||54%|
|Chairman of Overview & Scrutiny Committee||£4,839||£8,737||81%|
|Vice-Chair Overview and Scrutiny||£3,712||£6,801||83%|
|Chairman of Awards Panel etc||£3,712||£4,865||31%|
|Leader of the main opposition group (Lib Dems)||£4,984||£7,447||49%|
There is a report in the EDP followed by the obligatory head banger comments.