Tagged: councillors

Durham County Councillors’ payments frozen

Councillors have voted to freeze their basic allowances for the year ahead.

An independent panel had recommended a one per cent increase for members of Durham County Council.

However, the council’s Labour leader Simon Henig told a full council meeting at Durham’s County Hall it was not an appropriate time to be considering an allowance increase and proposed it be left unchanged.

Liberal Democrat Nigel Martin proposed a lower mileage allowance, of 45p per mile rather than 48p – a proposal backed by Conservatives and some independent councillors.

However, the Labour motion was passed by 86 votes to three, with nine abstentions.

Source –  Northern Echo, 23 Jan 2015

Two Hartlepool councillors turn down pay rise – and urge others to do the same

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

Council Tax benefit will not be cut in Hartlepool despite financial pressures

Councillors  have recommended not to increase the cut in levels of Council Tax Benefit from next year to help hard-pressed families in Hartlepool.

At the end of March 2013, the Government abolished its national Council Tax Benefits scheme and ordered councils to set up their own known as Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) scheme.

At the same time, the Government cut the funding to administer the scheme, which equated to 13.4 per cent for Hartlepool, and further funding cuts are being made in 2015/16.

Councils were also required to fully protect low-income pensioners, which potentially pushed up the funding cut for working age households to around 20 per cent.

Although many councils immediately introduced the 20 per cent cut in April 2013, Hartlepool Council limited the cut to 8.5 per cent in 2013/14 and 12 per cent in 2014/15 to help families facing financial pressures.

Councillors are expected to maintain the cut at 12 per cent following a recent meeting of the council’s Finance & Policy Committee.

Committee chairman Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, said:

“Ever since the LCTS scheme was introduced, we have tried very hard to cushion the blow on local people by using money set aside for this purpose, including our Family Poverty Fund.

“Councillors talk to people every day and fully understand how families are being severely hit by the Government’s various welfare reform changes and as councillors we have a responsibility to ease that burden if we can.”

Neighbouring councils increased the cut by 20 per cent from April 2013.

This means that based on the LCTS scheme cuts since April 2013 and proposed schemes for 2015/16, the 5,425 Hartlepool families living in Band A properties will receive £310 more support than families in neighbouring towns.

The final decision on Hartlepool’s LCTS scheme will be agreed by the Full Council in December.

Councillors have also recently recommended that Council Tax is frozen for a fifth successive year in Hartlepool, despite the Government cutting the Council’s grant support by £8.2m in 2015/16.

 Source –  Hartlepool Mail, 28 Nov 2014

Hetton-le-Hole : Democracy questioned as councillors walk-out over iPad video

Councillors have been slammed for walking out of a meeting – because a member of the public was filming proceedings.

Members of the Labour-controlled Hetton Town Council walked out of October’s monthly meeting after Kay Rowham started videoing it on her iPad.

The retired IT and telecoms worker took advantage of new Parliamentary legislation, signed by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in August, that anyone can record, film or tweet from public meetings of local government bodies.

However, her actions sparked a mass exit and now councillors have been told “democracy cannot live behind closed doors” by a council watchdog.

I go to most of the meetings and I’ve just got a new iPad,”  said Mrs Rowham, of Hetton. “When the rules changed, the town clerk advised members of it and I believe they all got copies.

“I did take a paper copy with me just in case, because they are not very public friendly. I go every month and I take notes, just to keep an eye on them.”

Mrs Rowham, who received 25 per cent of votes as a UKIP candidate in the May city council election for Doxford ward, started filming four minutes into the meeting.

She then posted the 12-minute, eight-second clip on video-sharing website YouTube under the name KittyKat.

“From the moment I started, a couple of the councillors looked at me, saying ‘look, she’s recording it’,” she said.

There was nothing contentious going on. You could see they got uncomfortable and asked me to stop filming. They refused to carry on the meeting while I was filming.

“Coun Anderson said they should call the police. We weren’t being disruptive, it was the councillors causing the uproar.”

On the footage, town clerk John Price can be heard trying to explain to members that the council has to make the provision to allow filming

Despite this, Mayor Tony Wilkinson suspended the meeting, saying: “My ruling is that there shall be no recording until such a time that this is adopted by this council.”

In an explanation of the legislation, the Government website at http://www.gov.uk states:

“The new law aims to end active resistance amongst some councils to greater openness.

“Councils have even called the police to arrest people who tried to report, tweet or film council meetings, or claimed spurious ‘health and safety’ or ‘reputational risks’ to digital reporting.”

Coun Keith Hepple, leader of Hetton Town Council, said:

The town council meeting on Monday, October 20, 2014, was suspended by the Mayor due to disruptive behaviour by a person.

“This was whilst discussing another issue. The town council is adopting a similar policy and procedure to meet the new legislation and whereby meetings can be recorded and filmed.

“Guidance has been taken from the National Association of Local Councils and their guidelines, and from discussions with other neighbouring local authorities, to ensure the council or its committees will be fully aware of the requirements and constraints of such.”

A spokesman for Labour North said: “This is a matter for the town council to look into under their complaints procedure and not for the Labour Party.”

Source – Sunderland Echo,  05 Nov 2014

‘We don’t want more money’ – Hartlepool councillors say they won’t vote for pay rise

Hartlepool councillors are poised to reject the chance of a controversial personal cash boost.

A review carried out by the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) has recommended that Hartlepool councillors should have their basic allowances increased by £250 from £5,767 to £6,017, with further annual increases of £250 in April 2014 and April 2015.

The move sparked anger  and calls have been made for the increase to be flatly refused in light of pay freezes which are in place elsewhere in the public sector.

The Hartlepool Mail attempted to contact each of the 33 councillors to ask how they planned to vote ahead of the full council meeting, which takes place at 7pm tomorrow.

Shortly after news of Mail’s survey leaked out, the ruling Labour group moved quickly to issue a statement saying all of its 19 members would vote against the proposal.

The statement from Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher read: “Hartlepool Labour Group will always support our staff at the council as they are the cornerstone of our success. This being the case we shall be reaffirming the principle of our resolution last year (April 11) whereby elected members shall only receive an increase in their basic allowance in-line with that awarded to our staff, as and when their increase is confirmed by Government.

“The basic allowance is paid to fulfil the duties associated with the role of elected members. The Labour Group has accepted our full responsibility and would therefore suggest all opposition councillors fulfil their responsibilities too and fill the vacant positions on committees in line with their allocation rather than avoiding their responsibilities.”

Conservative leader Ray Martin-Wells also said he would register a ‘no’ vote, as did his party colleague Brenda Loynes, while Putting Hartlepool First leader Keith Dawkins and fellow members Geoff Lilley and Kelly Atkinson all said they would also vote against a rise.

PHF member David Riddle, who wrote to all councillors asking them to reject the plan, was not available for comment though has previously made it public knowledge that he is against the move.

UKIP representative George Springer said he was not prepared to tell the Mail how he planned to vote ahead of the meeting, while the council’s other UKIP councillor, Tom Hird, said he planned to abstain.

Independent councillors Jonathan Brash, Pamela Hargreaves and Paul Thompson are all opposed to any pay hike and have pledged to vote against it, though John Lauderdale opted not to make his intentions public knowledge until he is asked for his vote at the meeting.

Source – Hartlepool Mail,  02 July 2014

Councillors accused of ‘lining their own pockets’ after voting to keep special allowances

Stockton councillors have been accused of “lining their own pockets” after voting not to cut special allowances that would have saved the authority around £26,000 a year.

But the Labour leader of the authority Councillor Bob Cook defended the decision to keep the £3,350 allowance paid to committee vice-chairs – saying they had an important role within the council.

An independent panel which looks into councillors’ allowances had proposed, among other recommendations, the scrapping of the vice chair’s allowance.

The special responsibility allowance (SRA) of £3,350 is paid to vice chairs on top of the basic councillor’s allowance of £9,300.

But at this week’s full council meeting Cllr Cook put forward a motion with the Labour group to keep the vice chair allowance.

A Conservative move to defer a decision to give time for councillors to discuss the motion properly was defeated by a combined vote of Labour and Ingleby Barwick Independents.

UKIP, Lib Dem and Billingham Independent councillors proposed the scrapping of the vice chair SRA, but that was also defeated.

Maureen Rigg, Lib Dem councillor for Eaglescliffe, said: “The excuse given by one Labour speaker after another was that we needed to get on with the job of saving money.

“Not one of them could explain how paying a group of people over £26k per year saved money.”

James Wharton, the Conservative MP for Stockton South, accused the ruling Labour group of “lining their own pockets” at a time when the council has had to reduce its expenditure significantly, leading to redundancies and cuts in services.

“The ruling Labour group in Stockton Council is running a £7.5m surplus, is increasing residents’ council tax yet again and complains about having to make difficult decisions cutting back services,” he said.

Most residents will be absolutely disgusted to hear this decision.”

But Cllr Bob Cook defended the motion, saying if you were going to have vice chairs then they should get extra responsibility payment.

Along with the chair of a committee they work as a team,” he said.

If the chair can’t be at the meeting you have the vice-chair to cover.”

He said councillors took another step towards achieving the authority’s pledge to reduce members’ allowances by 15% by April 2015 at the meeting, agreeing to freeze the basic allowance and reduce all SRAs from 2015/16.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette    02 May 2014

Sunderland – £35million budget cuts

PROTESTERS who gathered outside Sunderland civic centre have said £35million budget cuts will be the final nail in the coffin for city residents.

A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors ahead of the annual budget-setting meeting yesterday, during which the multimillion pound cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.

Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service, which they say will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets.

Among the protesters was Sunderland University chaplain Chris Howson.

He said: “The coffins represents the killing off of council services. We wanted to make a point as the councillors went in.”

Despite huge division in political opinion, all 53 councillors who attended the meeting – just over two- thirds of the 74 current elected members – voted through the motion presented by council leader Paul Watson.

One of them, Southwick Councillor Rosalind Copeland, attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting, supporting the demonstrators.

Pointing out that she was not there to criticise the council, but to defend what it is legally-bound to do in the face of Government cuts, Coun Copeland said: “I am here to defend my council and the decision my council will have to make – the agony we are facing as councillors.

“As council members, we are having to do things we don’t want to do. The Coalition is pilfering the working class. It is not this Labour group at fault.”

> The revolution will not begin in Sunderland…official.

To streamline finances, the council is focusing on three approaches; recommissioning services, reprioritising spending and exploring alternative ways to deliver services.

This includes reviewing car-parking charges, pest control and burial and cremation fees as well as reducing the authority’s fleet of bin wagons and the introduction of a four-day working week for recycling staff.

At the meeting, Coun Watson said: “Two years ago I said we were experiencing the most difficult economic period in living memory. This position has not changed. Even more pressure has been put on the council, with further reductions in public sector finances.”

He added: “The council has risen to the challenge and has managed these considerable risks.”

Opposition leader Robert Oliver agreed that the budget was “realistic”, and that while the Tory group welcomed the council tax freeze for a fourth consecutive year, the Labour administration should not complain about cuts, which he claimed had arisen as a result of lost revenue.

He said: “The workforce has been reduced and services have improved so it’s a case of go figure.

> And Sunderland is the 5th worst place in the UK to find work. Go figure that. Reducing the workforce might save money, but it also means more people unemployed. More chasing a pitiful few jobs. More coming under the frankly vile regime in the Jobcentres.

“The leader of the council has given us a slightly two-faced speech. You can’t complain about cuts which could have been avoided if there had been a council tax increase.”

On top of the £35million slashed from the coming year’s budget, the authority will have to find an identical amount to cut the following year.

Coun Watson says some of the savings are being mitigated by “hundreds of milllions” worth of capital investment planned until 2018.

Source – Sunderland Echo,  06 March 2014