Council leader says 11.34% pay rise isn’t large
Tory councillors on Swale Borough Council have awarded themselves an inflation busting bumper pay deal whilst council employees pay remains capped at 1%.
On average a Tory councillor is now a staggering 15.59% better off than last year whilst the average pay of a UKIP councillor has seen a pay cut of 4.70%.
The net result is that the combined cost of Swale councillors pay has rocketed by an astonishing £38,826 representing an 11.34% increase on the previous year.
We asked the leader of the Council Andrew Bowles whether he cared to offer any justification for the increase to which he said, “Come on, I know it's election time but 39K divided between 47 councillors is hardly large”.
You may well ask how this was allowed to happen, surely there are restrictions in place to prevent such an outcome. Well that’s true, but you can always play the promotion game to circumvent the rules and that is exactly what has occurred in this case.
The remuneration of councillors is based on the recommendations of an independent panel, but their recommendations are not mandatory and have been overruled on previous occasions.
This year all councillors were awarded a 2.75% increase on their previous basic pay of £4,881 taking their new basic allowance to £5,015.
Quite why councillors and council employees pay is governed by different arrangements is a mystery to me and even the modest 2.75% increase is clearly at odds with the 1% cap that council employees are limited to.
UKIP Cllr Mike Baldock told us “I have long argued that Councillor Allowances should be tied to those awarded to Council Staff at the same location. It seems unfair to do it any other way.”
Labour Cllr Roger Truelove commented “It isn't reasonable to raise the basic allowance. The recommendations are not mandatory.”
However, the basic pay only accounts for around 60% of the pay deal, the other 40% is awarded to those councillors with special responsibilities. For the purpose of this exercise I have excluded all expenses and ICT allowances which vary from one year to the next.
In total, there are 47 councillors and last year there were 12 positions which warranted additional pay. All but one of these positions is currently held by a Tory councillor.
This year in an apparent bid to share the workload, although not the pay, Tory members approved the creation of 7 brand new positions, all of which are for destined for Tory councillors and all of which attract additional pay.
Out of the current crop of 32 Tory councillors, over half, 18 in fact will now hold special positions attracting additional pay.
Cllr Roger Truelove suggested that “The posts are not necessary and are there to keep the troops under control.”
Cllr Mike Baldock said “Creating the 7 new deputy posts may have been one way of dividing up the work, but if that route was to be taken any payment should have been cost-neutral – i.e. it should have come from the existing Cabinet payment allocation, and not added a single penny to the public cost.”
“That's nearly half the Council who need to keep the leader happy for fear losing a paid roll. This destroys independence of thought amongst Councillors, and ensures that residents' interests will always come second to those of the Conservative Party. This is not democratic, it is not open and transparent governance, and is quite frankly a betrayal of the people who put their faith in this system.”
Whilst the basic allowance awarded to councillors is fairly average when compared to other Councils in Kent, both the number of positions and pay awarded for Special Responsibility Allowances varies enormously between Councils and it’s fair to say that Swale Borough Councillors are towards if not at the top of the pay league in this respect.
And if you think this year’s pay awards are just a one-off, I’m sorry to disappoint because over the last five years the basic allowances have risen by 50% and the Special Responsibility Allowances by an eye-watering 66%.
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KCC figures for November 2016, show an increase of 8.1% in child poverty since the previous year, with more than a quarter (26.9%) living in 2 districts - Swale and Thanet. Perhaps Councillor Bowles and his Conservative colleagues feel they have a right to exemption from the so-called austerity measures brought in by his party's Government?