Ex­penses panel quits

The Wokingham Paper - - COUNCIL NEWS -

THE panel that sets rec­om­men­da­tions for what coun­cil­lors are paid re­signed af­ter their rec­om­men­da­tions were re­jected by the coun­cil.

It is the third such panel to have re­signed in re­cent years.

At the coun­cil meet­ing on Thurs­day evening, Tom Ber­man pre­sented the In­de­pen­dent Re­mu­ner­a­tion Panel’s sug­ges­tions, which in­cludes rais­ing coun­cil­lors al­lowances by 2%, in­creas­ing the coun­cil’s leader’s re­mu­ner­a­tion while re­duc­ing the op­po­si­tion leader’s.

He first stressed the panel’s in­de­pen­dence.

“It is re­gret­table that this year there’s been an ac­cu­sa­tion that this panel is po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. We will not dig­nify that with any state­ment of de­fence. Only si­lence and a thick skin,” he said.

“The panel has looked for ev­i­dence from ev­ery pos­si­ble source within the coun­cil, in­clud­ing se­nior of­fi­cers and by bench­mark­ing ex­ter­nally, but we take the view that the most valu­able ev­i­dence comes from the mem­bers them­selves. It’s dis­ap­point­ing to re­port that, over the two-year pe­riod, this Panel has seen less than half of the 54 mem­bers.”

He also raised con­cerns that “a num­ber of fairly se­nior longserv­ing mem­bers” had “con­cern over the ap­par­ent power of pa­tron­age used by the Leader of Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil over many years”.

The panel said they’d heard this many times over two years and re­ferred to the way in which Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lors were given SRA pay­ments, or paid non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor­ships of coun­cil-owned com­pa­nies.

“We make clear in our re­port that this is not within the re­mit of the panel, but should be a mat­ter for se­ri­ous re­view by the coun­cil it­self. We would urge the Ex­ec­u­tive to con­sider how this looks to the or­di­nary Wok­ing­ham bor­ough tax­payer.”

In re­sponse, act­ing coun­cil leader Cllr Pauline Jor­gensen said: “The Con­ser­va­tive group are un­able to sup­port the rec­om­men­da­tions to change coun­cil­lors’ al­lowances.”

She added that the pro­pos­als to change the lead­ers’ pay was “un­wise, un­fair and un­demo­cratic”.

“We also be­lieve that it is the wrong time to in­crease the al­lowances for mem­bers while the au­thor­ity’s finances are be­ing squeezed so se­verely”.

Labour group leader Cllr Andy Croy urged coun­cil­lors to “cut out the crit­i­cism of the panel”.

He also said: “this Tory coun­cil has al­ready seen two res­ig­na­tions en masse by pre­vi­ous In­de­pen­dent Pan­els. We can­not lose a third Panel.”

He also said that he felt that “now is not the right time for mem­bers to be tak­ing more money from the pub­lic purse.

“The ma­jor ex­cep­tion to this is the lack of in­crease in al­low­able claims made to cover the cost of car­ers. The cur­rent rates may be above the min­i­mum wage but they sim­ply do not re­flect the cost of adult so­cial care.

“We also wel­come the sug­ges­tions to in­crease the scope of the IRP’s re­mit and to in­crease trans­parency.”

Cllr Prue Bray spoke on be­half of the Lib­eral Democrats, say­ing that “we have mainly sup­ported the IRP rec­om­men­da­tions as they were at least in­de­pen­dent, but this year I am strug­gling to un­der­stand the IRP’s rea­son­ing”.

She also felt that the changes to the lead­ers al­lowances “wouldn’t be right”.

A named vote saw some of the panel’s rec­om­men­da­tions were ap­proved, but not ones re­lat­ing to ex­penses or lead­ers’ al­lowances. The IRP re­signed on Fri­day last week. A new panel will need to be ap­pointed.

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