Councillors urged to keep lid on pay until freeze for staff lifted

MEMBERS of Hull Council are being urged maintain their pay freeze while accepting a reduced mileage allowance, potentially saving the authority more than £70,000 a year.

But their annual income would rise by almost £1,000 when a national pay freeze for 1.4 million local government employees is lifted, under recommendations being made by an independent remuneration panel.

The 59-member council will meet on Thursday for the first time since Labour swept to power in the local elections on May 5, ending four years of Liberal Democrat control.

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Councillors will be asked to vote on the panel’s report, which recommends the temporary maintenance of the current basic members’ allowance of £11,643, and freezes on the special responsibility allowances (SRA) paid for those performing senior roles.

This would see additional payments stay at their current level: at £23,286 for the council leader; £17,463 for the deputy leader; £14,553 each for the eight cabinet members; £11,643 for the main opposition leader and the chair of the overview and scrutiny management committee; and £5,821 for the chairs of the seven area committees, the six overview and scrutiny committees, and the chairs of the scrutiny, licensing and planning committees.

The biggest loser would be the chair of the standards committee, who would see their SRA drop by more than two thirds – to £494 from £1,500. The chair of the audit committee, who currently receives no SRA, would also get £494.

The SRAs would be reviewed when local government pay scales are increased.

The panel also recommends introducing a mileage rate of 40p per mile, a significant reduction on the current top rate of 65p per mile, which drew criticism last month from Local Government Minister Bob Neill following a survey by the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Council leader Steve Brady said he expected members to vote in the recommendations, given the period of austerity being endured by the public.

He said: “A lot of people are suffering in this city and it’s totally inconceivable that anything else could be supported, given the circumstances we are in.”

The proposals would see £72,362 cut from the members’ budget to a new overall payment of £1.14m.

The panel had considered recommending a £872 rise (7.5 per cent) to the basic allowance before submitting revised proposals.

It explained its thinking behind an increase in the report: “Whilst the panel recognised that this could be perceived as a pay increase at a time of local government pay restraint, we would view it as a remuneration realignment and it has been clearly linked to the April 2009 pay structure for local government staff. Furthermore, the increase spans at least a five-year period.

“The panel are (sic) equally aware that external criticism could be made from a benchmarking perspective when comparing solely the actual basic allowance with other comparator authorities.

“The panel believes this to be too narrow a comparison and have recognised that on a cost per population basis is close to the average spend. In addition, Hull City Council meets more often than many similar councils, thus increasing workload.

“Our revised recommendation is to now maintain the freeze of the basic allowance at £11,643, but further recommend that when the pay freeze for local government employees is lifted the basic allowance should automatically move to £12,515, plus the value of the inflationary increase applied to the local government pay scales from April 2009.”

Hull, along with Leeds and Bradford, has been one of three Yorkshire councils paying a mileage rate of up to 65p per mile.

The average rate across the UK was 56.4p in the 2010-11 financial year – well above the Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs-approved level at the time of 40p, the survey found.