Will North Northamptonshire councillors vote for an allowance increase amid the cost of living crisis?
Opposition groups are calling for a delay to a proposed bump in councillor allowances
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By Sarah Ward
Plans to hike the allowances given to North Northamptonshire’s councillors have been criticised by opposition councillors who say the proposal feels wrong during the current financial squeeze being faced by many households.
An independent remuneration panel has suggested that all of the council’s 78 councillors receive an additional £1500 a year for their civic duties (taking their basic allowance to £14,000) alongside substantial increases to the extra allowances given to the leader, deputy leader and the executive members.
But the leader of the Kettering Green Alliance Emily Fedorowycz and the Labour opposition leader Jean Addison have come out publicly against the suggestion. Both sit on the democracy and standards committee which met on Tuesday night to discuss the plans.
A move by Cllr Fedorwycz to propose that there is a freeze on the allowance was dismissed and instead the matter will be voted on by all 78 of the councillors at a full council meeting in June.
Cllr Fedorowycz said:
“It doesn't feel appropriate for us to have this increase at this time. It doesn’t feel empathetic.”
She said she will propose the freeze again at the full council.
And Jean Addison said it is likely her 14 member Labour group will abstain in the vote when it happens in June.
“We can’t ask for a massive increase in our allowances when people are struggling to manage their day to day budgets,” she said.
“From our point of view we would be quite happy for it to be delayed. We can’t justify a big increase in our allowances.”
Rising energy bills, an increase in national insurance contributions alongside council tax rises (all Northamptonshire residents were charged more from this month for local police and local authority services) are putting a strain on lower income families.
The allowances for the council were first set by the independent panel ahead of the new authority being set up last April. At the time it was suggested that due to the disparity in the allowances between the councillors in the North and the West unitary councils (the West councillors receive a higher basic allowance of £13,750), it was decided at the time to revisit the decision in 12 months time.
The new report from the panel - which is chaired by De Montfort University professor Steve Leach - was made after hearing from a number of councillors, including leader Jason Smithers, his deputy Helen Howell, three senior officers and six councillors put in written submissions. The heavy workload of the Conservative executive was referenced.
The allowance increases were recommended but the panel did recognise the current financial climate.
“Even if the Panel felt that there was a strong argument for recommending substantial increases in allowances, which is not the case, it would be wary about doing so. The next year is likely to be a difficult one financially for the nation; inflation is rising steadily, and wage increases are not keeping pace with the cost of living. Fuel prices -domestic and motoring – are predicted to soar. Many councils would find it hard to justify substantial increases in members allowances in these circumstances.”
If voted for, the additional allowance given to the leader would rise to £28,390 from £27,000 and the deputy’s allowances would go up to £21,000 from £18,000. Additionally they would receive the new £14,000 basic allowance. Other recommendations from the panel include giving the deputy leader of the labour group Cllr John Mcghee £4,000 and an additional allowance of between £2000 and £5000 for the newly created posts of assistant executive members. Chairs of special scrutiny groups would also receive an allowance.
NN Journal has contacted council leader Jason Smithers for his view on the suggested allowance hike.
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