Concerns over ‘scrutiny’ as opposition allowances cut

Banbury Cake: Some councillors' allowances have been scrapped Some councillors' allowances have been scrapped

SCRAPPING some allowances for opposition councillors could damage local democracy, it has been claimed.

Oxfordshire County Council has cut the special allowances for most Labour councillors, while senior Conservatives will continue to be paid for their roles in running the authority.

This means members of the county council’s cabinet continue to receive their “special responsibility allow-ance” (SRA) of £12,565 each year on top of their £8,376 basic allowance but the £2,456 allowance for 10 shadow cabinet members has been removed.

And the allowance for the leader of the opposition has been reduced from £14,660 to £12,565 while that for leader of the council remains unchanged.

Last night Taxpayers’ Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “Councillors’ allowances have risen considerably over the last decade or two, so any attempt to reduce that bill for local council taxpayers is to be welcomed.

“However, the shadow cabinet have an important part to play in scrutinising the actions of the council, so removing their additional allowances altogether has the whiff of the council leadership seeking to reduce the capacity of its opponents to scrutinise them – which is potentially bad news for Oxfordshire residents.”

County councillor Liz Brighouse, the Labour leader of the opposition, said: “One of the big problems we have is encouraging people to become councillors and the idea is that people are remunerated for the work they do.

“It is about ensuring that there is transparency and challenge in local democracy.”

The recommendations were made by an independent panel made up of representatives from the voluntary sector, the business sector and the public sector.

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A spokesman for the council said the total savings would be £10,000.

Council leader Ian Hudspeth said the scrutiny role will still exist. He said: “Anything to do with councillor allowances is always very sensitive because we are aware that it is taxpayers’ money and that’s why we set up the independent panel.”

Councillor Laura Price, shadow cabinet member for adult social care, called for more radical changes to the allowances policy to make greater savings. She said: “There’s a concern when you move allowances away from the opposition party because they are there to provide scrutiny.”

Cultural and community services shadow cabinet member Susanna Pressel said: “I find it scandalous that several Conservative councillors are getting increased allowances at a time when many people have lost their jobs and wages are being held down.”

Councillor John Sanders said he used expenses to subsidise long distance travel costs, stationery and postage stamps. He said: “It’s a little bit disappointing that they’ve chosen to take money off the opposition and not off the cabinet but I’m not particularly worried.

“It doesn’t prevent me from doing anything.”

John Tanner, shadow cabinet member for policy co-ordination, said Labour spoke out against the changes but voted in favour because they were recommended by an independent panel.

In its report, the panel said the changes had altered the emphasis of the role played by the opposition.

COUNCILLORS’ PAYMENTS

  • Councillors receive £8,376.96 a year in basic allowances.
  • In the 2012-13 financial year, the county council paid more than £870k in expenses. This included £612k to its 76 members in basic allowances.
  • Six councillors did not claim the full amount.
  • It also paid out £224k in responsibility expenses for cabinet and shadow cabinet members and £37k in travel and subsidence expenses.

SOME OF THE OTHER CHANGES

  • An allowance of £500 for each locality chairman.
  • SRA for chairmen of the planning and regulation committee, audit and governance committee and pension fund committee increased from £2,729 to £5,050.
  • SRA of £2,729 to deputy chairman of planning and regulation committee

Comments (8)

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10:39am Tue 6 May 14

mytaxes says...

It is scandalous that councillors Tanner and Pressel are both city and county councillors, there should be more diversity, it's time they stood down from one of the positions plus any other councillors who hold duel roles.
It is scandalous that councillors Tanner and Pressel are both city and county councillors, there should be more diversity, it's time they stood down from one of the positions plus any other councillors who hold duel roles. mytaxes
  • Score: 10

1:10pm Tue 6 May 14

Severian says...

Looks like a bit of Gerrymandering by the Tories here - anything to reduce the ability of the opposition to hold them to account. If I were the Labour councillors I would make a formal complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman - this is a clear attempt to play dirty politics and prevent those in power from being held to account.
Looks like a bit of Gerrymandering by the Tories here - anything to reduce the ability of the opposition to hold them to account. If I were the Labour councillors I would make a formal complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman - this is a clear attempt to play dirty politics and prevent those in power from being held to account. Severian
  • Score: 0

2:50pm Tue 6 May 14

King Joke says...

mytaxes wrote:
It is scandalous that councillors Tanner and Pressel are both city and county councillors, there should be more diversity, it's time they stood down from one of the positions plus any other councillors who hold duel roles.
It's very dangerous to hold duel roles - all that choosing swords or pistols at dawn, I mean someone could get hurt. Maybe they should hold dual roles instead?
[quote][p][bold]mytaxes[/bold] wrote: It is scandalous that councillors Tanner and Pressel are both city and county councillors, there should be more diversity, it's time they stood down from one of the positions plus any other councillors who hold duel roles.[/p][/quote]It's very dangerous to hold duel roles - all that choosing swords or pistols at dawn, I mean someone could get hurt. Maybe they should hold dual roles instead? King Joke
  • Score: 8

3:17pm Tue 6 May 14

mytaxes says...

King Joke wrote:
mytaxes wrote:
It is scandalous that councillors Tanner and Pressel are both city and county councillors, there should be more diversity, it's time they stood down from one of the positions plus any other councillors who hold duel roles.
It's very dangerous to hold duel roles - all that choosing swords or pistols at dawn, I mean someone could get hurt. Maybe they should hold dual roles instead?
Thank you, my fingers type too quick for my brain sometimes!
[quote][p][bold]King Joke[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]mytaxes[/bold] wrote: It is scandalous that councillors Tanner and Pressel are both city and county councillors, there should be more diversity, it's time they stood down from one of the positions plus any other councillors who hold duel roles.[/p][/quote]It's very dangerous to hold duel roles - all that choosing swords or pistols at dawn, I mean someone could get hurt. Maybe they should hold dual roles instead?[/p][/quote]Thank you, my fingers type too quick for my brain sometimes! mytaxes
  • Score: 3

3:22pm Tue 6 May 14

oxinkytext says...

I really do not understand the Labour position. I have heard Lady Liz Brighouse on the radio in the past arguing that these opposition allowances should be cut (but only when she was not in the role!). I have also heard her criticising other (non-Labour) councillors for having dual hats on more than one council. Also, recently the Labour group were arguing for all county councillor allowances to be reduced. Now, when this has been done in a few cases they moan - talk about hypocritical!

Personally, I think councillors earn their basic allowances and, if anything, they can be undercompensated for the time and work they put in. We don't want a position where the only people who can stand for election are wealthy, retired or both.

It is entirely possible for the Labour councillors to forego their allowances (or donate to charity), so why have they all not done so instead of all this sudden faux anger just to make a political point??
I really do not understand the Labour position. I have heard Lady Liz Brighouse on the radio in the past arguing that these opposition allowances should be cut (but only when she was not in the role!). I have also heard her criticising other (non-Labour) councillors for having dual hats on more than one council. Also, recently the Labour group were arguing for all county councillor allowances to be reduced. Now, when this has been done in a few cases they moan - talk about hypocritical! Personally, I think councillors earn their basic allowances and, if anything, they can be undercompensated for the time and work they put in. We don't want a position where the only people who can stand for election are wealthy, retired or both. It is entirely possible for the Labour councillors to forego their allowances (or donate to charity), so why have they all not done so instead of all this sudden faux anger just to make a political point?? oxinkytext
  • Score: 3

3:36pm Wed 7 May 14

riman09 says...

It's called politics, masquerading as cutting the council bill. I bet if they were the 'opposition' this Tory lot would not have done what they did And they certainly would be crying foul if another party had done this to them!
It's called politics, masquerading as cutting the council bill. I bet if they were the 'opposition' this Tory lot would not have done what they did And they certainly would be crying foul if another party had done this to them! riman09
  • Score: 0

12:02pm Fri 9 May 14

PeterJ42 says...

I can see the Taxpayers Alliance point of view about scrutiny.

But I query whether Labour is really the party of opposition across Oxfordshire. Only in a few pockets do they have significant support -in many areas it seems to be more LibDem, in others it is UKIP rising fast.

Surely they should get a share of any monies, not just Labour.
I can see the Taxpayers Alliance point of view about scrutiny. But I query whether Labour is really the party of opposition across Oxfordshire. Only in a few pockets do they have significant support -in many areas it seems to be more LibDem, in others it is UKIP rising fast. Surely they should get a share of any monies, not just Labour. PeterJ42
  • Score: 1

12:29pm Fri 9 May 14

King Joke says...

PeterJ42 wrote:
I can see the Taxpayers Alliance point of view about scrutiny.

But I query whether Labour is really the party of opposition across Oxfordshire. Only in a few pockets do they have significant support -in many areas it seems to be more LibDem, in others it is UKIP rising fast.

Surely they should get a share of any monies, not just Labour.
'The Opposition' just means the party with the second-highest proportion of the votes. Broadly speaking one-quarter of the County's population lives in Oxford, where the Labour vote is higher than elsewhere, so this probably dictates Labour have the second-highest share of the vote County-wide.
[quote][p][bold]PeterJ42[/bold] wrote: I can see the Taxpayers Alliance point of view about scrutiny. But I query whether Labour is really the party of opposition across Oxfordshire. Only in a few pockets do they have significant support -in many areas it seems to be more LibDem, in others it is UKIP rising fast. Surely they should get a share of any monies, not just Labour.[/p][/quote]'The Opposition' just means the party with the second-highest proportion of the votes. Broadly speaking one-quarter of the County's population lives in Oxford, where the Labour vote is higher than elsewhere, so this probably dictates Labour have the second-highest share of the vote County-wide. King Joke
  • Score: 1

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