UPDATED: Row as MPs suggest increasing allowances would lead to 'more capable' councillors (From Wirral Globe)
Send us news by text, start your message Globe News and your send photos and videos to 80360
UPDATED: Row as MPs suggest increasing allowances would lead to 'more capable' councillors
4:00pm Thursday 10th January 2013 in News
A political row has erupted after MPs suggested that increasing town hall allowances could help attract more "capable" local councillors.
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps accused Labour of a "sleazy" bid to boost its own party coffers by encouraging higher payments.
But the Opposition said he had scored a "massive own goal" because Tory MPs had approved the contents of the cross-party report.
In Wirral, the 66 councillors receive:
• A basic allowance of £9,171 per year for all members.
• Special responsibility allowance for councillors who take on additional responsibilities, such as cabinet members and committee chairmen and women. These range from £22,927, for the leader of the council, to £1,375.
• Reimbursement of travel and subsistence costs
• A dependant carer’s allowance, to support any councillors with childcare responsibilities.
Wirral Council leader Phil Davies said it would be “inappropriate” for councillors to take extra cash for their roles while some residents struggle to make ends meet.
He said: “I believe that councillors do a really excellent job and it is important that they are properly supported and remunerated.
"However if I was asked if I would propose an increase in Wirral, the answer would be no.
“I took the view that given the economic climate where the cost of living is rising and local Government funding is being cut, I felt it would send the wrong message to voters if we increased allowances.”
The tit-for-tat Parliamentary row was sparked by the conclusions of an investigation into the role of councillors by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee.
It found that present levels of allowances "at best, do not encourage and, at worst, deter capable people from standing for election".
The increasingly demanding role warranted "an appropriate level of compensation, especially if they have to take time off work", it said. However "the problem is exacerbated because councils are reluctant to vote for an increase for fear of the media and public reaction".
Instead, like under the new system for MPs' pay and perks, responsibility for setting allowances should be handed over to an independent local panel, it recommended.
Compensation for loss of earnings, incentives for employers to support council duties and more officer support to handle casework were also recommended.
Labour MP Clive Betts, who leads the committee which has a majority of members from coalition parties, said "legitimate" rises were being shied away from and dismissed Mr Shapps' attack as "shallow political point-scoring".
Minutes show the text of the report was approved by both Conservative members present, Heather Wheeler and Mark Pawsey.
Mrs Wheeler, herself a councillor of more than 20 years' standing, said she stood by the report, including the concerns that low allowances may in some cases put off candidates.
But Mr Shapps accused Mr Betts of a "cynical and sleazy move" because Labour councillors are obliged to pass on a proportion of their allowances to the local and national party coffers.
He said: "Local taxpayers will be shocked to learn that the Labour Party will be quids-in from Labour demands for more taxpayers' money on councillor allowances."
Mr Betts insisted the committee was not calling for a "blanket increase" but an independent assessment in each area as to whether allowances were set at the correct level.