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‘Hoo-ray and up she rises’ as Fenland Council vote to increase allowances

Many Fenland councillors are also county councillors where each receives an annual basic allowance of £11,133.53

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Leader Chris Boden – with a perfect attendance record last year of 18 out of 18 meetings – is the biggest ‘winner’ in the latest round of allowances agreed by Fenland District Council. Not only will he benefit from an increased basic allowance of £5,304 a year (up from £5,043.96) but his special responsibility allowance (SRA) as leader will rise from £17,654.49 pa to £18,564 pa, an increase from the current scheme of £910 pa or 5.2%.

And, for the first time, an independent renumeration panel has recommended, and the council accepted, paying additional allowances for work on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

For Cllr Boden, as a board member, that will mean an SRA for the coming year of £6,126.

Other Fenland councillors who have roles on the Combined Authority will receive allowances of £1,225 a year.

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Many Fenland district councillors, of course, are also members of Cambridgeshire County Council where each receives an annual basic allowance of £11,133.53.

Cllr Steve Count said he was heavily involved in setting up the combined authority “and I would still vote for it today”.

Cllr Steve Count said he was heavily involved in setting up the combined authority “and I would still vote for it today”.
PHOTO: Terry Harris

Some who hold SRAs at New Shire Hall include Cllr Steve Count, who as leader of the opposition, is paid an additional £11, 049.60.

Fenland Council heard from the independent panel that although there is no legal right to parental leave of any kind for people in elected public office, such a measure would be appropriate.

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The panel felt it would be a way “of improving the diversity of councillors” and their recommendations were accepted.

Basic allowances will be paid to councillors for up to six months for absences due to leave related to maternity, paternity, adoption shared parental leave or sickness absence

Councillors entitled to a Special Responsibility Allowance will also be paid in full for up six months for similar reasons.

Amanda Orchard, chair of the independent remuneration panel, introduced her report to the December full council meeting.

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Ms Orchard, a marketing consultant, was joined on the panel by Gerard Dempsey, a business consultant, and Nicky Blanning, senior manager for Cambridge University.

“We are all experienced renumeration panel members, we work on lots of other local authorities reviews which gives good perspective of what is going on elsewhere,” she explained.

“We recognise there are many hours given by councillors and I am always struck by dedication of so many of you to your electorate.”

Cllr Steve Tierney (back right) said he would back the increases in allowances “because we cannot forever say no one has a rise”.

Cllr Steve Tierney (back right) said he would back the increases in allowances “because we cannot forever say no one has a rise”. Picture by Terry Harris.

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She said her panel considered not only the impact of the combined authority on members but also new executive advisory committees as well as the matter of annual increases, particularly given public sector staff were awarded lumped sum increases and the current scheme did not make provision for this.

The panel, she said, recognized that not all councillors who took part in the review were supportive of the combined authority allowance, but it was “recognised universally” of the additional time commitment and benefits of being involved in its work.

“It wasn’t a decision we took lightly,” she said. “At the very beginning when I did my first review the combined authority was not to cost constituent councils anymore – however it is fair to say the authority has evolved over time and it is probable it did not quite pan out as people saw it initially

“But we do consider it fair and proportionate to allocate allowances to those that undertake that work which we consider to be quite substantial.”

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Cllr Boden said the renumeration for councillors would approach the average of the other five district councils in Cambridgeshire “and just like them we all have duties and responsibilities and the combined authority”.

The council accepted an amendment from Cllr Maureen Davis to give an SRA to the vice chair of planning who, she said, “carries considerable responsibility”.

She also successfully proposed SRAs for the chair of the new Culture, Arts & Heritage Executive Advisory Committee and the Rural & Farming Executive Advisory Committee

The independent panel had said in their report that “given that the committees are in their infancy they felt it was too early to establish the level of responsibility associated with the committee chairman roles.

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“As such the panel recommend that no new SRA should be introduced at this time in respect of the new executive advisory committees but recognised that more information will be available during subsequent reviews, which may influence future considerations in respect of these roles”.

Cllr Sam Hoy said each constituent council now paid their combined authority members and what would it say about Fenland if they did not follow suit.

Cllr Sam Hoy said each constituent council now paid their combined authority members and what would it say about Fenland if they did not follow suit. Picture by Terry Harris.

Cllr Gavin Booth felt the “whole point” of an independent panel was to let them decide and so disagreed with Cllr Davis.

He said even though he personally disagreed with combined authority allowances, he was willing to accept the independent panel’s recommendation.

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Cllr Sam Hoy said each constituent council now paid their combined authority members and what would it say about Fenland if they did not follow suit.

“Much as it sticks in my throat, now is the time,” she said.

Cllr Steve Tierney said he would back the increases in allowances “because we cannot forever say no one has a rise. Councillors deserve renumeration for what they do”.

However, he added a caveat that if Fenland Council is unable to again freeze council tax next year, then he will not be taking the increased allowances.

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“People are struggling out there,” he said. “It is the only thing for me is showing leadership in difficult times, but those difficult times have gone on for a long time, affects us as well as everyone else.

“My feeling is as long as we can carry on delivering good work we are delivering and freeze council tax again then I will support it – we do not know that at the moment – and going to vote for it but if we are unable to freeze council tax next year then I will not take it.

“That’s how I feel about that.”

Summing up the debate, Cllr Boden said: “I fully respect comments made by Cllr Booth, they are consistent with comments he has made before.

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“He said we should be listening to independent panel and that in fact is exactly what we have done, paid due regard to it, and have agreed they have done a very good job.”

Mayor Nik Johnson (second right) with Fenland District Council leader Chris Boden (right) on a visit to March in 2022 for an update on the town’s transformational £8.4million #FutureHighStreetsFund project.

Mayor Nik Johnson (second right) with Fenland District Council leader Chris Boden (right) on a visit to March in 2022 for an update on the town’s transformational £8.4million #FutureHighStreetsFund project.

He added: “Ultimately responsibility does not lay with panel, but responsibility is with this council

“And we in this council do know personal basis amount of work given by some individuals in some particular positions.

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“Position of vice chair of planning is not a normal, not simply turn up, sit by side of chairman, do nothing go away. They must be prepared to stand in at short notice and chair meetings can be highly contentious and very difficult indeed. So, you have to put in all the preparatory work as chairman.”

He also felt it was unfair to have two new committees where the respective chairs did not receive an SRA.

The council agreed with the panel’s report and was told the additional costs per annum would be £7,365 plus mileage claims now permissible for the planning committee chair for site visits when necessary.

Cllr Steve Count said he was heavily involved in setting up the combined authority “and I would still vote for it today”.

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Fenland had achieved much from it and for instance £12m for March would not have happened without it.

“By providing our leadership with some extra resources we can dedicate extra time for Combined Authority to fight as hard for our areas that other people have been for years,” he said.

FOOTNOTE

The panel said the recommended basic allowance is calculated using the following “robust formula”, namely that on average elected district councillors spend 15 hours a week fulfilling their district council role, the average wage in Fenland is currently £13.60 per hour.

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However, it is also recognised that a proportion of the work elected councillors perform should not attract a payment as it is for the benefit of the local community and therefore a public service discount is applied.

In this instance the proposed public service discount used is 50%. The formula is therefore as follows hours per week to fulfil the role (15) x weeks in the year (52) x average earnings (£13.60) x public service discount (50%).

This equates to a basic allowance of £5,304.

The council accepted the panel’s recommendation to backdate allowances to April 1, 2023.

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It also recommended, and it was agreed, that an annual increase to member allowances of 3.19% for the period 22/23 “would be proportionate and that this increase should be back dated to 01/04/22”.

 

 

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