Sunderland's Conservatives will propose huge cuts to councillors' allowances, at a meeting of the Independent Remuneration Panel held this morning (10th November).
The Independent Remuneration Panel takes evidence from party leaders and local councillors about the allowances paid to councillors. It then recommends a rate of pay which full Council must ratify.
At today's meeting of the Panel, Conservative Leader Cllr Antony Mullen will propose cutting tens of thousands of pounds from Special Responsibility Allowances (the allowances paid to councillors with additional duties beyond being a ward councillor, such as chairing a committee).
Local Conservatives are also set to oppose an increase in the basic allowance - the rate which all councillors are paid.
In recent years, the Conservatives have proposed bigger cuts to allowances than either the Labour Party or the Lib Dems.
In his submission, Cllr Mullen also highlighted how the Labour Group on the Council tried to deceive the public last year, asking for an increase in allowances in private whilst claiming to be against a rise in public.
Cllr Mullen said: "As last year and the year before that, I will be proposing a package of savings that can be made by cutting or totally abolishing enhanced payments to councillors.
"It is my view that not all of the roles with a special responsibility allowance attached deserve additional payment, and that is the argument I will make to the Independent Panel.
"Last year, Labour misled the public over what it had said to the panel. That is why, in the interest of transparency, I have decided to publish my submission to the Panel in full.
"A Conservative-led Council would implement these cuts to allowances in full."
In 2019, Cllr Mullen voted for plans which cut his own Special Responsibility Allowance by 100%, taking a bigger reduction in pay than any other councillor in the city.
Read the Conservatives' full submission to the panel below.
Conservative Group’s Independent Remuneration Panel Submission – 2021/22
Like our submission for 2020/21, this document sets out our position on Special Responsibility Allowances and the Basic Allowance.
Special Responsibility Allowances
The Conservative Group continues to believe that Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) should be cut.
We stand by our proposals last year in respect of the following:
- Remove the SRA for Deputy Cabinet Members, either making these voluntary posts or scrapping them entirely, with a view to Portfolio Holders working full time on their brief.
- Remove the SRAs for all Vice Chair positions on Area Committees to bring these in line with Scrutiny Committee Vice Chairs and transfer all the Area Vice Chair responsibilities to the Chair.
- Reduce the 5 Area Committee Chairs’ SRAs by 50%.
- Reduce all Scrutiny Committee Chairs’ SRAs by 50%.
The Conservative Group would also merge the roles of Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Secretary, removing the Environment and Transport brief from the Deputy Leader’s portfolio and reinstating the discrete cabinet post for this brief.
We believe this should be done not just as a cost saving exercise, but to have a cabinet member focused solely upon the environmental issues that are priorities for residents, including the city’s rat problem, sewerage discharge on the sea front, and refuse collections.
For the same reason, we also believe an Environmental Scrutiny Committee should be established.
We have, as far as possible, put these policies into practice when it comes to our own Group. As the Conservatives gained more seats at the 2021 local elections in May, our Group secured more positions with SRAs attached. Two councillors have positions with SRAs but, as our Group had previously supported cutting these two SRAs, both councillors donate their 100% of their SRA to charity.
For several years now, we have questioned whether the Deputy Cabinet Member roles required a Special Responsibility Allowance. This year, the Leader has decided not to appoint anybody to two of the four Deputy Cabinet Member positions on the basis that there is not enough work for them to do.
This, we think, has serious implications for the IRP because it gives rise to asking why this same conclusion was not reached when the IRP last met. It is difficult to understand how, between then and now, the Housing and Regeneration and Children’s Services areas of the Council’s service provision have such reduced workloads that the respective Deputy Cabinet Members are no longer required.
For this reason, we continue to question how the panel makes a judgement regarding how much work is involved in each role and believe that a more in-depth investigation into the workload of remunerated roles is necessary. With this arrangement in place, it would have been detected at an earlier stage that there was not enough work for 50% of the Deputy Cabinet Members to do.
There is, in our opinion, no reason for the basic allowance to increase. We do not believe that there is public support for an increase in the basic allowance
We note the point made by the Leader of the Council in previous years regarding the allowance being necessary to enable people on low incomes to become political representatives but, in our experience, this has not been a barrier to recruiting candidates from low-income backgrounds. On the contrary, when we interview candidates who wish to stand for election, they are often surprised to learn that the role is remunerated at all.
Should there be an absolute necessity to increase the basic allowance, we believe this should be paid for by cutting Special Responsibility Allowances so that the total amount spent on allowances, by the Council, does not increase.
Politicisation of the IRP
Finally, the 2020 Independent Remuneration Panel report was politicised by the Leader of the Council. As the report noted, and as the panel said when taking evidence, the Leader of the Council had proposed – on behalf of his group – that the basic allowance should increase to reflect the additional work that councillors were doing during COVID-19. The IRP accordingly recommended an increase in the basic allowance.
However, the Labour Group issued a press release stating that they would be rejecting the IRP’s recommendation, failing to mention that it was the Leader of the Council who had asked for this in the first place.
At the subsequent meeting of Council where the IRP report was considered, all three opposition leaders at the time asked the Leader to clarify his remarks and the inconsistency between his private comments and those he made publicly. This led to an undignified performance in which the Leader repeatedly cited the independence of the IRP but would not address the fact the report cited his request for a rise in the basic allowance.
Our view is that the Labour Group knowingly and purposefully politicised the IRP review process to attempt to gain favourable publicity and then acted dishonestly when questioned about the incongruencies in its position.
To prevent this happening again, we believe that contributors to the IRP’s evidence sessions should be named in their report, with their remarks attributed to them.