At a meeting of Bedford Borough Council on Wednesday evening (11th January) Labour Group Leader Sue Oliver proposed an amendment that this year Borough Councillors do not accept the 1% increase in their allowances recommended by an Independent Remunerary Panel (IRP).
All Councillors are granted an allowance in order that people from all walks of life can stand for office. Those with positions on the Executive or with extra responsibilities receive higher allowances. The allowances received by each Councillor are published at the end of each Financial Year.
Labour Group Leader Councillor Sue Oliver said: “In previous years we’ve accepted the recommendations of the IRP which have been in line with Council Officer pay awards. Many councillors work very hard for the community and the allowance makes it possible for us to do this. However, this year the situation the Council is in due to Conservative Government cuts to Local Authorities is now so dire we feel this is the right thing to do.”
In recent years some members of the Conservative Group on the Council have brayed loudly about how they would not accept an increase to the allowance, presuming that in order to encourage people without hefty incomes to take on the responsibilities of a councillor role the Labour Group would accept it and vote for it, so they would receive it anyway. In recent years increases have been set at 1%, the same as the pay award to council officers. Despite making a lot of indignant protest about it in the local media and online, all Conservative councillors accepted their allowances.
Clearly surprised by the move by the Labour Group in Full Council, the Tories had no choice but to support the proposal, and offered no comments.
Councillor Mohammad Yasin, Portfolio Holder for Adult Services who seconded the motion, took advantage of his right to speak and lambasted the Conservative Group for the financial pressure their Government is putting on Local Authorities and to the residents the councillors represent.
Speaking over an increasing hubbub of Tory muttering and cat-calling, Cllr Yasin said:
"For a wide spectrum of people to be able to stand as councillors there has to be an allowance. Councillors are granted an allowance in order that people from all walks of life can stand for office. It shouldn’t only be possible for better off people. It means we represent the people in our community with different ages, people who work and people who don’t.
However, thanks to the brutal cuts to the council from Conservative central government we now find ourselves having to make decisions on services and job cuts that we did not envisage. Many of us would have second thoughts about becoming councillors had we known the difficult position we would be put in and the choices we are being forced to make in order to set a balanced budget for this Council.
As Portfolio Holder for Adult Services I know just how much demand for these services is increasing, and want to thank our hardworking officers who do a great job. But we need proper funding for social care. Instead of recognising this, the Government totally ignored both social care and the NHS in their Autumn Statement.
Instead, the Government has now instructed Local Authorities to put up Council Tax in order to pay for the increasing cost of social care. This will place an extra financial burden on every household in the Borough. We know how hard any increase in Council Tax will be for many of our residents and therefore feel that we now cannot accept an increase in our allowance, however small.In solidarity with the people we will not accept an increase in our allowance this year."
Predictably the Conservatives now felt the urge to speak and were wildly waving and calling at the Speaker Cllr Tom Wootton, but council procedure rules meant that the time for comments had passed.
The Council voted unanimously in favour of the amendment.