Councillors’ allowances set to be frozen for next four years – and they will no longer get a mobile phone as part of the job

Date published: 08 October 2021

Recommendations from an independent panel which include freezing councillor allowances for four years are expected to be approved when they go before a meeting of the full council next week.

It is the first full review of councillors remuneration since 2016 – when elected members sparked uproar by overwhelmingly voting through a 34% pay rise. The town hall chamber echoed with boos and cries of ‘disgraceful’ as councillors – bar two Lib Dems – endorsed proposals put forward by an independent committee.

Suggested arrangements for the next four years are not likely to prove as controversial – although the payments remain a bone of contention among some residents.

It means the basic allowance for all 60 councillors will remain at £11,172 per year – subject to indexation – over the next four years.

Special responsibility allowances (SRAs) are paid on top of this to people in senior positions – such as the leader, cabinet members and committee chairs.

The vast majority of the SRAs are to stay at their current rate, although the audit committee chair’s pay is set to go up, while payments to representatives on the Greater Manchester Transport committee would be axed.

The panel has also recommended that councillors are no longer provided with mobile phones and £35 per month for calls and data. Instead, members will be able to claim up to £20 per month for any council-related use of their own phones.

It means the overall bill for allowances is due to go up by just under £23,000 to £987,674.

This could potentially be slightly lower as councillors cannot claim more than one SRA even if they take on two qualifying roles (with the exception of the leader’s £5,879 payment for his role on the combined authority).

As part of its review, the independent panel met with a ‘representative range’ of councillors to discuss any issues of concern, while each member also completed a questionnaire.

The panel’s report says a ‘key theme’ that emerged was that the ‘current allowances scheme was still fit for purpose’ having been updated in 2016.

While not intended to reflect the ‘market value’ of councillors’ work, payments go a long way to ‘recognising that there is a substantial time commitment and complexity to being an elected member’, it adds.

“People do not enter public service to make their fortune. But neither should they pay a price for serving the public,” the report says.

But the panel was also mindful of the current economic climate and hardships faced by people in the borough.

The report continues: “While there was some substantial support arguing the case to increase the basic allowance in particular, it was generally put in the context that now was not the current time to do so.

“This was particularly the case with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, and its effects likely to last for the next couple of years at least. The residents of Rochdale are facing challenging times and as such the recommendations of the [panel] should be broadly cost neutral.”

Should the recommendations be accepted in full, leader Councillor Neil Emmott’s special responsibility allowance (SRA) will stay at three times the basic rate (£33,516), while his two deputies – Councillor Sara Rowbotham and Councillor Daalat Ali – will remain at half of this (£16,758).

Those paid to the other seven cabinet members is set to be maintained at £15,082 – 45% of the leaders’ recommended rate.

And all other SRAs – for roles such as township chairs – will remain at the previous rates, bar the chair of the audit and governance committee, which will rise from £6,703 to £8,379.

The new arrangements would come into effect immediately, with the exception of the changes relating to mobile phones, which are to be implemented from the council’s annual meeting in May 2022.

Other key recommendations include:

That the SRA for the Leader of the main opposition group is maintained at £11,731, set at 35% of the leader’s SRA.

That the qualifying criteria for paying an SRA to a leader of other opposition group[s] is reduced to three group members and the SRA is reset at £1,676, which is five per cent of the leader’s SRA

That the members appointed to the council’s adoption and fostering panel are paid an SRA of £1,676, which is five per cent of the leader’s SRA.

That the current SRA (£4,182) paid to Rochdale Members appointed to the Greater Manchester Transport Committee is discontinued.

Rochdale full council will meet at Number One Riverside next Wednesday (13 October) from 6pm.

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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