Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) independent remuneration panel has recommended significant increases in the allowances paid to councillors, such as lead councillors and committee chairs, who have additional responsibilities. The basic councillor allowance of £8220 per annum will not change. The report from the panel will be considered at the RBC full council meeting on 25 June.
These special responsibility allowances (SRA) have not changed since 25 May 2010 when they were reduced by 10%.
Changes recommended by the remuneration panel
The proposal includes an additional tier of SRA so there will be four different levels of payment and some roles have been re-assigned to a different tier.
If agreed, the new allowances will replace those agreed at the RBC full council meeting in March which kept allowances at the 2018/19 level, pending the remuneration panel’s full report.
|Leader of the council||£7004||£19846||183|
|Deputy leader of the council||£5722||£12000||110|
|Lead councillor (tier 1 2018/19 & 2019/20)||£3816||£10799||183|
|Committee chair (planning and licensing) (tier 2 2018/19 & 2019/20)||£2147||£6076||183|
|Committee chair (all other committees) (tier 2 2018/19 & tier 3 2019/20)||£2147||£3039||42|
|Deputy committee chair (planning and licensing) (tier 3 2018/19 & tier 3 2019/20)||£1074||£3039||183|
|Deputy committee chair (all other committees) (tier 3 2018/19 could be considered for tier 4 2019/20 see below)||£1074||n/a||n/a|
|Leader of the main opposition party (tier 1 2018/19 & tier 2 2019/20)||£3816||£6076||59|
|Leader of other opposition parties (tier 2 2018/19 & tier 3 2019/20)||£2147||£3039||42|
|Other activities (possibly including deputy chair of committees) requiring commitment equivalent to those which attract an SRA (tier 3 2018/19 & tier 4 2019/20)||£1074||£1074||0|
The remuneration panel’s report is silent on the additional allowance paid to the mayor, who receives an extra £10200 per year, and the deputy mayor, who receives an extra £2400.
New leader of the council Jason Brock will receive a 183% increase in the allowance paid to his predecessor because:
The panel considers that this allowance should be increased significantly due to the high level of responsibility of this role.
In a similar vein, the allowances of the lead councillors, such as Katesgrove’s councillor Sophia James, lead for neighbourhoods and communities, will increase by the same percentage because:
… the panel considers [the allowance] is also too low for the level of responsibility required to fulfil these [lead councillor] roles.
The reason for not increasing the basic councillors’ allowance was that at £8220 it was already above the Berkshire average of £8001.
The proposals increase the differential in payments between lead councillors and their councillor colleagues. The leader of the council currently receives a total allowance which is less than double the rate of a councillor, but this could increase to more than three times the basic councillor allowance.
The leaders of the opposition groups in the council will receive recommended increases of 59% (Conservative Party) and 42% (Green Party and Liberal Democrat Party) which will also increase the differential between them and their councillor colleagues.
The proposal would increase the cost of councillors’ allowances in this year’s budget by almost £100000, from £461600 to £561000. This possibility had already been taken into account in the medium term financial strategy (MTFS) presented to council in February 2019.
Who is on the remuneration panel?
The appointment of the four members of the remuneration panel was re-confirmed at the council’s annual meeting in May and they are:
- Francis Connolly, who has experience of the local voluntary sector and local business,
- Lady Audrey Durant, who has experience of the local voluntary sector,
- Linda Fort, who has experience of local media,
- Mick Pollek, who has experience of the local trade union movement.
How the panel reached their conclusions
In making their recommendation, the panel considered the allowances paid in other councils, especially unitary authorities, in Berkshire. This showed that special responsibility allowances in Reading were far behind those in other local authorities. The allowance for leader of the council ranged from £28954 in Bracknell Forest to £18865 in West Berkshire and lead councillors’ allowances from £15926 in Bracknell Forest to £9433 in West Berkshire. The new rates in Reading would be somewhere between these at £19846 and £10799 respectively.
Councillors were also asked to complete a questionnaire as part of the review. This asked questions about their employment circumstances, the time they spent on council business and a number of questions about their opinion of allowance scheme. Reading has 46 councillors, 23 (50%) of whom responded to the survey. Interviews were also carried out with the leader of the council (depending on when the interview took place this may have been the outgoing leader Councillor Jo Lovelock or new leader Councillor Jason Brock), the leaders of the Conservative and Green groups as well as the lead councillor for children.
The remuneration panel addressed the issues of councillor recruitment, retention and career progression using evidence given by councillors in responses to the questionnaire [para 10]:
… although councillors were seldom put off by the level of allowances from becoming a councillor there was often a reluctance to take on more leading roles due to the time commitment this would entail. The time that lead councillors and other councillors had to commit when taking on additional responsibilities was regularly cited as limiting career prospects, which could create affordability issues and reduce the talent pool for the more senior councillor roles at the Council.
What did potential Katesgrove councillors in the recent local elections think?
When the Whitley Pump interviewed the Katesgrove candidates in this year’s local elections, we carried out our own survey of potential councillors’ expectations. We asked “how many hours a week do you think a councillor needs to spend on council affairs?”
Labour party candidate Liam Challenger, who won the election, said:
Local councillors have such an amazing position with power and responsibility and not enough credit at times given to them. I think those roles should be recognised as full-time positions; it’s an allowance and is often done by people who are retired or work part-time. Less than 12% of councillors nationally have full-time work outside their council roles.
The responses of Conservative party candidate Natalie Greenstreet and Green party candidate Louise Keane showed that they were both aware of the difficulties of combining being a councillor with full-time work.
The Liberal Democrat candidate Peter Kinsley said “as a councillor, you have to work your socks off.”
What are councillor allowances meant to cover?
The RBC website describes the allowances paid to councillors:
Councillors don’t receive a salary or wage but are entitled to allowances and expenses to cover some of the costs of carrying out their public duties.
This description of the payments may be slightly misleading, as it is clear that SRAs are designed to cover more than that. The remuneration panel’s report describes the aim of the allowances scheme [para 9]:
The aim of the councillors’ allowances scheme is to recognise the different roles and responsibilities to be undertaken by councillors within the Council’s decision making structure. The allowances scheme should aim to compensate councillors fairly and equitably for their time and effort they need, or can be expected, to devote to their work as elected members of the council.
The covering report going to the council meeting forgets itself at one point [para 9.3] and talks about ‘salaries’.
- RBC council meeting – papers and webcast
- Councillors’ allowances scheme 2019/20 report & remuneration panel report
- RBC councillors and their allowances
- RBC Constitution – Part 6 Member’s allowances scheme
- RBC full council meeting 27 March 2018 – Councillors’ allowances scheme
- Reading to receive £210k Brexit funding and other financial tales