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Pay deal for top Birmingham councillors a ‘political minefield’ in austerity Britain

Pay deal for top Birmingham councillors a ‘political minefield’ in austerity Britain

🕔23.Oct 2013

A pay review for senior Birmingham city councillors is no nearer completion more than a year after discussions about the future of salaries for cabinet members and committee chairs began.

Members of the Independent Remuneration Panel have spent 18 months attempting to reach agreement about the future of special responsibility allowances that are paid to about 50 of the 120 councillors to reflect an increased workload.

The issue is particularly sensitive against a backdrop of swingeing public spending cuts and the government’s austerity programme.

At the moment the allowances range from £50,000 a year for council leader Sir Albert Bore to £28,000 for a cabinet member, £15,000 for the chairman of a regulatory committee, £12,500 for a scrutiny committee chair and £10,500 for the chairman of a district committee.

The panel has been conducting a “root and branch” review of the special allowances structure following complaints from councillors that the time taken to fulfil additional responsibilities was not being reflected by high enough payments.

However, given the financial squeeze facing local government, the council leader is understood to have insisted that the overall budget for councillors’ allowances cannot increase.

The remuneration panel was to have put forward recommendations for a new payments structure this month, but is not now expected to report until February 2014. Chairman Sandra Cooper blamed “circumstances beyond the panel’s control” for the delay.

This is thought to be a reference to a failure to reach informal agreement with the council leadership about the future of special responsibility allowances. While the panel is independent and free from political control, its recommendations have to be approved by the full city council.

The panel has produced one recommendation that is expected to be agreed. The £16,267 basic allowance for a three-day week, paid to all 120 councillors, will be frozen for the fourth successive year.

Ms Cooper has warned that some recipients of special responsibility allowances may see their pay cut, while others may receive an increase.

She said: “A  re-examination of the definition and application of the significant additional responsibilities’ criteria required for the award of a special responsibility allowance will be an important element of the on-going review.”

The issue is regarded as a political minefield, with almost half of the city council benefiting from special responsibility allowances.

Lying at the heart of discussions is the increasingly important role played by Birmingham’s 10 district committees responsible for running devolved services and overseeing budgets in excess of £100 million.

At the moment district chairmen qualify for a £10,574 allowance, on top of their £16,267 basic pay, bringing the total to almost £27,000. Deputy district committee chairs, however, do not receive a special responsibility allowance.

The panel may be considering whether the £12,689 special responsibility allowance paid to scrutiny chairs is too generous, given that scrutiny committees have no executive powers.

New special responsibility allowances have been introduced in recent years following lobbying from councillors of all political colours.

The future of a £2,179 allowance paid to secretaries of the council’s Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups is under review as is the decision to award a £2,618 payment to shadow cabinet members.

In her annual report, Ms Cooper dropped a broad hint that the allowances structure would have to change to reflect a smaller council.

She said: “The  Independent  Remuneration  Panel  is  very  mindful  of  the  fragility  of  the current economic situation, and  the ever  increasing pressures on  the public purse  following  this year’s comprehensive spending  review and budget settlements.    It  is  forecast  that  the  financial pressures  will  continue  across  the  public  sector.

“Elected  representatives  have  to  take  tough decisions  about  services  and  their  future  delivery  with  shrinking  budgets. The council will become a smaller organisation in the future and services are being rationalised.

“The  current  economic  climate  has  focussed  the  public’s  attention  on  current  levels  of  senior officer  salaries  and  councillors’  allowances  and  expenditure  across  the  country. Openness, transparency and accountability must be at the forefront of councillors’ allowances.”

Cover Image: via Global Legal Post

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