THE WAGE gulf for councillors across Yorkshire’s cities and rural areas is as much as £12,000, a year, it can be revealed, as campaigners argue the country’s £669m bill for councillors allowances is “difficult to justify”.
New research by the TaxPayers’ Alliance showed that £15.5m was spent on allowances for elected members by Yorkshire councils in 2014/15.
Over the last three years, £669m has been spent nationally, of which £47m was spent in Yorkshire and the Humber. But the figures reveal vast differences in what individual councils in the region pay to councillors.
The highest basic allowance is for councillors in Leeds, who in 2014/15 took home £14,929. The combined allowances and expenses total for the council in 2014/15 came to £2.14m.
The lowest allowance was given to Richmondshire’s district councillors, who were given £2,950. It also had the lowest combined allowances and expenses total in the region at £135,351.
The campaign group also examined the levels given to councillors with special responsibility, for example those sitting on the cabinet or executive board. Leeds paid the highest at £37,483, while to lowest was in Ryedale at £3,587.
While Leeds may pay the most in Yorkshire, it is dwarfed by other large cities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, which both pay councillors a basic rate in excess of £16,000.
But the highest level in the country was Moray Council in the north-east of Scotland, which gave a basic allowance of £16,722.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance said £113m could have been saved over three years if no council paid above the median value of allowance in each type of authority.
Chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “With the nation’s finances yet to be fixed, councillors across the country will continue to have to make difficult decisions. In order for them to have the moral authority to carry out that very important job, councillors must show restraint when it comes to their own taxpayer-funded allowances and ease the burden on hard-pressed families.”
In both Leeds and Richmondshire, the level of remuneration is set by an independent panel.
A spokesman for Leeds Council said its councillors had approved a 3 per cent reduction in all special responsibility allowances over the value of £7,000 per year for the past three consecutive financial years; and last year, members also declined the option to increase in members’ allowances.
He said: “With significant reductions continuing to be made to our budgets, the challenge to provide a high-quality and effective service to residents whilst also ensuring the city continues to move forward has grown.
“If we are to meet these challenges it is important residents have the sufficient representation from people that understand their individual needs and who can champion their concerns while work closely with them.”
He said Leeds councillors represented “comparatively larger” numbers to other councils and played a “crucial role” in ensuring residents voices are heard, as the recent flooding showed.
Richmondshire District Council managing director, Tony Clark, said it would be “unfair” compare the levels it pays councillors with the levels paid in cities like Leeds.
“The issues an urban council deals with compared to a district are completely different and need different skills – our main issues are housing, planning and waste services, whereas in cities like Leeds issues like social care and highways needed to be added in,” he said.
He said the level of remuneration reflected the level of time spent on council work.
Being an effective councillor requires commitment and places demands on time, a spokesperson for the Local Government Association said.
Should residents feel they are not getting “value for money”, they can hold them to account at the ballot box.
Allowances ensure local democracy “does not become the preserve of the privileged few who can afford to give their time for free,” he added.