The new government is pledging greater openness and transparency on councillor allowances.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps has hit out at recommendations by the Local Government Association for hikes to councillor allowances at a time when public sector workers - including town hall staff - are facing a 2-year pay freeze.
Councillor allowance hikes at time of pay freeze
In a circular on 23 June 2010, the Local Government Association issued recommendations on ‘members allowances’. It recommended a rise of 2.3% this year; it also said that councillors attending the Local Government Association should be paid ‘a daily rate’ of £152.77. Another circular published the same day advised of a 2-year pay freeze for public sector workers. Most councils have already adopted a pay freeze this year. Local councillor allowances are a matter for local councils, and ministers have no legal powers to intervene. But ministers are calling on councillors to freeze their allowances in line with public sector workers.
Need for ‘sunlight’ of openness
There is no central list of councillor allowances. The Local Government Association is not subject to the FOI regime. The new government is pledging to require councils to publish allowances in an open and standardised format online, allowing for voluntary groups like theyworkforyou.com to ‘mash up’ the data and publish allowances, councillor by councillor, in one place.
Grant Shapps, Minister for Local Government, said:
“It is not justifiable for hikes in councillor allowances when public sector workers are facing a 2-year pay freeze. We’re all in this together, and those who hold public office need to lead by example.
“In an era of localism, councillors will have an increasingly important role to play in holding town halls to account on behalf of their residents. But councillors must remain arms-length volunteers. It will be harmful for local democracy if they become the bankrolled staff of the town hall dependant on the municipal pay packet.
“The new government will let the sunlight of openness into councillor allowances to allow the press and public to hold elected officials to account more. We all need to do our bit to restore the public finances to good health and ensure taxpayers get better value for money.”
Members Allowances: As a service to member authorities, the Local Government Association each year circulates a revised member allowances daily rate, derived from the latest Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. The increase for 2009 was 2.3%, which when applied to the present daily rate of £149.34 gives a daily rate of £152.77’ (Local Government Association, LG alert checklist, 23/10, 23 June 2010).
This came on the same day further guidance from the Local Government Association informed councils of the recommendation for a 2-year pay freeze for public sector workers. Most councils have already adopted a pay freeze in 2010 to 2011 (Local Government Employers, Budget Statement on public sector pay, 23 June 2010)
This is on top of a recommended 4.6% rise last year - the first year of the council pay freeze.
Although councils must publish councillor allowances as a legal requirement under 1980s legislation, the new government has pledged to publish councillor allowances in a more open way, to allow better comparison between councils and ensure greater public scrutiny.