Two councillors have told civic chiefs they do not want an increase in their allowances – and have called on other members to snub the offer.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s chief finance officer Chris Little wrote to all 33 councillors this week to tell them that their basic allowance of £5,825 was going up to £5,953.
The proposed hike in allowances was recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel, and was discussed by the full council in July.
Councillors did not approve the increases at the time and a Labour-backed amendment was put forward saying if they were to be given a rise then it should be in line with any increases given to council staff.
Since then, a 2.2 per cent rise for council staff has been agreed at Government level, therefore triggering the cash boost for councillors.
But councillors Pamela Hargreaves and Jonathan Brash, who refer to themselves as Independent Labour but are classed as Independent on the council’s website, said members did not “deserve” a rise.
Coun Brash said:
“Most public sector workers have seen just a 1 per cent rise, making them poorer year on year.
“The idea of local politicians accepting any rise in these circumstances, let alone 2.2 per cent, makes me sick to my stomach. This was a Labour stitch-up from the beginning. Many councillors said it was wrong then and it remains wrong today.
“It’s time Hartlepool had some real Labour principles back in the council chamber.”
Coun Hargreaves said:
“Let us be absolutely clear. Council staff deserve this pay award However, to suggest that local councillors are comparable and deserve the same pay increase is abhorrent and we will not accept it.”
The authority’s deputy leader Coun Carl Richardson accused them of “cheap political point-scoring”.
Coun Richardson, deputy leader of Hartlepool Council, said:
“This is cheap political point-scoring.
“Hartlepool Councillors received no increase in their Basic Allowance for four years from 2009/10 to 2012/13 and the Full Council last year rejected the Independent Remuneration Panel’s recommendation that the Basic Allowance should be increased each year, which would have meant a figure of £6,517 for 2015/16.
“Instead, it agreed an amendment put forward by the Labour Group that councillors should stick to a previous 2013 resolution that they should only receive an increase in their basic allowance in line with any pay increase received by council employees from the Government, as and when that occurred.
“The current increase – which will be payable from 1st January 2015 and will be fixed for 2015/16 – will take the councillors’ basic allowance from £5,825 to £5,953.
“It means Hartlepool will still have the lowest councillors’ basic allowance in the North-East – significantly less than the North-East average of £8,965 and way below the highest allowance in the region of £13,300.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 16 Jan 2015
Hartlepool Borough Council is facing huge budget cuts of around £14m over the next two financial years due to reduced Government funding.
The funding gap facing the local authority was laid bare at a meeting of the council’s finance and policy committee.
While exact details on where the axe will fall are still being worked on, finance chiefs at the authority know they will need to bridge a funding deficit of £5.626m in 2015-16 and £8.663m in 2016-17.
A finance report said the council’s senior corporate management team has identified initial options for achieving savings worth £5.536m for the next financial year but details are yet to be announced.
Councillors have been warned they are faced with making even tougher decisions than in previous years given the level of savings they need to achieve.
Chris Little, council’s chief finance officer, said: “The savings options have been identified against a background of delivering significant cuts over the last four years, which makes the achievement of further savings to balance the 2015-16 budget extremely challenging.
“It therefore needs to be recognised that the initial savings options will require members to make even more difficult decision than in previous years.
“It will be essential that members make these decisions as early as possible to ensure detailed savings can be implemented before the start of the new financial year.”
It is proposed 2015-16 budget decisions will be made before Christmas, with decisions around council tax being made early next year before full council agrees the budget.
Mr Little said whatever happens in next years General Election, he believed there would still be cuts to public spending in future years.
The latest budget forecasts follow on from severe budget cuts in recent years and in February this year, councillors unanimously agreed savage budget cuts of more than £4m resulting in the loss of 60 council jobs. It did though include a council tax freeze for hard-up residents for the fourth successive year.
A council report to the meeting added: “The continuation of significant grant cuts means that in 2015/16 the council’s grant will £30.578m lower than it was in 2010-11, which is a cumulative cut of 39 per cent.”
This comes as a new national report revealed local authorities in England will need to make huge savings before next April, equivalent to 12.5 per cent of their total budgets.
Councils face a funding gap of £5.8bn between now and the end of 2015-16, analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) found, adding the deficit will be caused by a combination of reduced government funding and rising demand on services, in particular from growing numbers of elderly people.
LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: “In recent years, local government has worked tirelessly to save billions while protecting services for those who need them most.
“But the scale of the challenge facing local authorities next year is stark. Council finances are on a knife-edge and the old way of doing things – including the way we care for our elderly population – just won’t work any more.”
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “The LGA’s doom-laden and alarmist claims lack credibility. Councils are balancing their books each year and, as the LGA’s own research shows, the public now thinks they are delivering better services than before.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 01 July 2014