Anger over councillors’ pay rise

Report by Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Opposition members and a newly formed group of ex-Labour councillors have slammed a decision to increase spending on allowances.

Dinah Barry, who recently left the Labour Party to form a group on the council called ‘Community First’ with Derek Levy, branded the £36,000 increase in councillors’ allowances “shameful” at a time when other politicians have taken pay cuts.

The pay rise is made up of an increase in the number of posts that are eligible for special responsibility allowances (SRAs) because they have duties over and above their roles as ward councillors.

It includes an extra associate cabinet member – awarded £7,608 a year on top of their basic pay – and allowances for the heads of new committees such as the environment forum. Basic allowances, which are paid to all elected members, are not increasing.

Wednesday night saw the first full meeting of the council since the pandemic began, held via Microsoft Teams. Cllr Barry claimed the biggest rises were among posts “that are in the gift of the leader” and said: “Creating paid posts for your chums is not democratic – it is patronage. Our residents deserve an administration they can trust, one that puts them first.

“I’m going to ask if anyone knows what these politicians have in common: Cyril Ramaphosa, Sadiq Khan, Bookanakere Yediyurappa and Jacinda Ardern?

“They, and others around them, have taken pay cuts in solidarity with their communities. What a shameful contrast with what we are being asked to agree.”

Members of the Conservative group also sharply criticised the increased spending on allowances. Tory leader Joanne Laban said: “Many people have got employment uncertainty at the moment, and I think it would be wrong to change the SRAs to the new structure.

“It has a potential increase of £36,000. I don’t think that is a good look, currently, for the country or the borough as we come out of Covid-19.”

Fellow Conservative Mike Rye suggested the increase was about “trying to build up the payroll vote for whoever is leader of the majority party”.

But members of the Labour administration defended the increase, which is partly down to a shake-up of Enfield Council’s scrutiny function. Deputy leader Ian Barnes said posts such as the chair of the new environment forum would have “an ever-increasing amount of work as we move towards our carbon-neutral role in 2030”.

He added: “I think the SRA to the chair reflects that workload, that we will be pushing more and more work.”

Mary Maguire, the cabinet member for finance, said the changes were about “equality”, pointing out that the fostering panel is “extremely important” – but for years members have not been given SRAs.

Council leader Nesil Caliskan added: “If councillors do not want to take an allowance, they are not forced to. All you have to do is inform officers, and they will make sure you are not paid it.

“Not everyone has a trust fund or a very healthy pension, and if we are serious about making sure representation in local government is fair, you cannot make the argument that we have just heard from councillors that some special responsibilities should be paid more and some, like the fostering panel or chairing the equalities committee, should be paid nothing.

“That is not fair, it’s not right, nor is it appropriate – because if we did that, we would be facilitating discrimination.”

Cllr Caliskan claimed the £36,000 figure would really be “much less” because councillors cannot draw down two SRAs.

The changes were agreed when Labour councillors – with the exception of Vicki Pite, Anne Brown and Daniel Anderson, who abstained – voted in favour. Conservative councillors and members of Community First voted against.