Big Pay Rise for Hounslow's Senior Councillors

Part-time Council leader sees allowance doubled

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Hounslow Council Leader Peter Thompson is to benefit from a doubling in the allowance he receives after Councillors voted themselves increases at a recent meeting of the Council. Other Councillors on the executive also received big increases. The rises will take the total amount paid to elected members in the borough to just under £1,000,000 per annum.

Whilst the amount for ‘backbench’ Councillors will increase by a relatively moderate £238 to £9,763, the Council Leader will receive a substantial 118% increase to his Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) taking his Council pay to £34,000; more than the average salary. This figure does not take into account the basic allowance of £9,763 paid equally to all members.

Cllr. Thompson works as a teacher four days a week currently but he is reducing this to three days next term. He says that thanks to the generosity of his employer and working in the evenings and school holidays he can get the job done. His predecessor as Council Leader, Colin Ellar worked full-time in his role as the head of the Council Executive.

Cllr. Thompson said, "Last week’s decisions by the Hounslow Council to increase members allowances were always bound to be controversial. Allowances reflect more than just the number of hours one works. They should, I believe, be based also on the level of responsibility one has, the loss of actual or potential earning being a councillor involves and compensate for careers put on hold. "

He points out that nationally over half of all Councillors are aged over 60 and only 8% are, like him, under 40. Low allowances make it difficult for any one not rich or retired to serve in a leadership role as a councillor. According to Cllr. Thompson, Hounslow Council still has some of the lowest allowances in London and they are well below the figures recommended by the Independent Panel on Councillor Remuneration last year.

He added, "The quality of local democracy depends on the ability of the Council to attract able people to serve as councillors."

Labour's Jagdish Sharma, leader of the main opposition received no increase in his allowance and claimed members of his party were blocked from moving an amendment to hold allowances at their current levels. He said, “It seems a pity that we are expecting many staff members and members of the public to make sacrifices as the Tory cuts begin to bite but at the same time awarding themselves more money.”

Cllr. Thompson's administration have employed consultants to look at efficiency within the Council and it is understood that significant redundancies are being planned in the Borough.

The Deputy Leader of the Council Mark Bowen will see his allowance increase from £8,994 to £20,000, and other members of the Executive will get £16,000, having previously received £6,474 - again additional to their basic allowances.

Speaking out against the less generous increases proposed by the previous Labour administration in 2003, Councillor Bowen said at the time, “ I cannot support something that will go down like a rat sandwich in this borough, as I will not be able to defend it with honesty and credibility.”

Councillor Bowen defended his allowance increase stating that he presently takes one day a month off from his full time job at Heathrow "unpaid leave and paid for from my Special Responsibility Allowance" to attend daytime events at the Civic Centre.

He said, "More recently, I have had to use some of my annual leave entitlement in order to deal with vital daytime commitments. This increase in Special Responsibility Allowance puts me in a position whereby I can now afford to make an application to reduce my hours further and spend more daytime hours at the Civic Centre which is why I was able to support the increase in allowances."

The council arrived at the figures using London Council's - an umbrella organisation made up of Council Leaders - average pay table. Richmond Council are using a similar justification for allowance increases this year which will force the average up further. According to London Councils, the first twenty hours each month that a Councillor spends on their work is meant to be voluntary and they are expected to do an extra forty hours.

Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Dakers stated that whilst his party supported the increases in principle, as they will reduce barriers for some people in standing for election, they had serious concerns as to whether Executive members with other jobs should take the full pay increase.

He said, “It is vital that we recognise the the current financial barriers faced by some backbench councillors wanting to join the Executive, as well as those people who have not stood for election as councillors, despite believing in public service. Unfortunately I could not support the proposals last night as many Executive members will now be drawing two allowances, in addition to salaries from employment outside the council. There is no clarity at the moment from Executive members as to what the public will get for their money."

August 2, 2007