BASIC allowances for BCP Council members will not be increased after councillors agreed it was “not the time” to do so.
At their meeting last Tuesday it was decided to reject most of the recommendations made by an independent panel in favour of an amended scheme put forward by council leader Cllr Drew Mellor, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
But opposition councillors have accused him of “breaking his promise” by not fully covering the £60,000 cost of six new lead members through reductions to his allowance and those of his cabinet.
The Independent Remuneration Panel reviewed allowances paid to the council’s 76 elected members and recommended a £1,000 base rate rise as workloads were bigger than expected when the council was formed.
It also suggested new £5,000-a-year payments for the newly-introduced lead members – also known as cabinet assistants – four of whom are Conservatives.
The total cost of these changes, along with other proposals, would have amounted to more than £140,000, while only £25,000 had been budgeted for increases.
Instead, when the report was considered at the meeting, Cllr Mellor put forward an amendment scrapping rises but introducing larger £10,250 payments for the lead members.
Following his election as leader he said these allowances would be introduced “at no extra cost to the council” through reductions in pay for himself and his cabinet.
However, the cuts proposed in the amendment only cover half the cost. He said the remainder would instead be recouped through a pay freeze next year.
There was criticism from opposition councillors, including Liberal Democrat Cllr Tony Trent and Poole People leader Cllr Mark Howell, who said this amounted to a “breach” of his promise.
Cllr Trent said the lead member allowances were “huge and disproportionate” and they were to “seemingly buy loyalty”.
Despite this – and criticism his proposals had not been made available for examination in advance – the council approved Cllr Mellor’s amendment.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Howell said: “The creation of new lead member posts with accompanying allowances of more than £10,000 per annum will tie more members into the administration through patronage and allow cabinet members to delegate responsibilities, giving them more time to spend on their personal interests.
“It seems we now have a king and court, rather than a responsible administration.”
But Cllr Mellor hit back saying it was “an odd attempt to spin a story to say a leader who has stepped up to take a 40% reduction has anything other than integrity”.
He added that he was “really pleased” his proposals were approved and said it was “obviously not the time” for councillors’ allowances to be increased.
He said: “I was delighted that council supported the move to incorporate a further six lead members, at nil extra net cost, to aid this work.
“There is a huge amount to do and it shouldn’t just be the preserve of the 10 members on cabinet.”