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Concerns over ‘scrutiny’ as opposition allowances cut
SCRAPPING some allowances for opposition councillors could damage local democracy, it has been claimed.
Oxfordshire County Council has cut the special allowances for most Labour councillors, while senior Conservatives will continue to be paid for their roles in running the authority.
This means members of the county council’s cabinet continue to receive their “special responsibility allow-ance” (SRA) of £12,565 each year on top of their £8,376 basic allowance but the £2,456 allowance for 10 shadow cabinet members has been removed.
And the allowance for the leader of the opposition has been reduced from £14,660 to £12,565 while that for leader of the council remains unchanged.
Last night Taxpayers’ Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “Councillors’ allowances have risen considerably over the last decade or two, so any attempt to reduce that bill for local council taxpayers is to be welcomed.
“However, the shadow cabinet have an important part to play in scrutinising the actions of the council, so removing their additional allowances altogether has the whiff of the council leadership seeking to reduce the capacity of its opponents to scrutinise them – which is potentially bad news for Oxfordshire residents.”
County councillor Liz Brighouse, the Labour leader of the opposition, said: “One of the big problems we have is encouraging people to become councillors and the idea is that people are remunerated for the work they do.
“It is about ensuring that there is transparency and challenge in local democracy.”
The recommendations were made by an independent panel made up of representatives from the voluntary sector, the business sector and the public sector.
A spokesman for the council said the total savings would be £10,000.
Council leader Ian Hudspeth said the scrutiny role will still exist. He said: “Anything to do with councillor allowances is always very sensitive because we are aware that it is taxpayers’ money and that’s why we set up the independent panel.”
Councillor Laura Price, shadow cabinet member for adult social care, called for more radical changes to the allowances policy to make greater savings. She said: “There’s a concern when you move allowances away from the opposition party because they are there to provide scrutiny.”
Cultural and community services shadow cabinet member Susanna Pressel said: “I find it scandalous that several Conservative councillors are getting increased allowances at a time when many people have lost their jobs and wages are being held down.”
Councillor John Sanders said he used expenses to subsidise long distance travel costs, stationery and postage stamps. He said: “It’s a little bit disappointing that they’ve chosen to take money off the opposition and not off the cabinet but I’m not particularly worried.
“It doesn’t prevent me from doing anything.”
John Tanner, shadow cabinet member for policy co-ordination, said Labour spoke out against the changes but voted in favour because they were recommended by an independent panel.
In its report, the panel said the changes had altered the emphasis of the role played by the opposition.
- Councillors receive £8,376.96 a year in basic allowances.
- In the 2012-13 financial year, the county council paid more than £870k in expenses. This included £612k to its 76 members in basic allowances.
- Six councillors did not claim the full amount.
- It also paid out £224k in responsibility expenses for cabinet and shadow cabinet members and £37k in travel and subsidence expenses.
SOME OF THE OTHER CHANGES
- An allowance of £500 for each locality chairman.
- SRA for chairmen of the planning and regulation committee, audit and governance committee and pension fund committee increased from £2,729 to £5,050.
- SRA of £2,729 to deputy chairman of planning and regulation committee
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