Public ‘pays out for political roles’ on local councils

The Council Chamber in Bradford City HallThe Council Chamber in Bradford City Hall
The Council Chamber in Bradford City Hall
The taxpayer is having to pay £600,000 of funding for “arbitrary” payments for political roles at councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, research suggests.

A study by the Taxpayers’ Alliance shows £584,649 was spent in the regions last year spent on special responsibility allowances for councillors given roles including Chief Whip, Group Secretary and Group Leaders.

Nationally, the Taxpayers’ Alliance estimates the purely political roles to cost the public purse £8.5m.

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Bradford Council, which is having to make hundreds of redundancies to meet cuts of £54m in the next two years, 
spent £135,000, nearly a quarter of the amount spent by all 30 councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on the extra allowances.

They included £22,400 on a “shadow executive” – only it and Lincolnshire have one – three chief whips (total £41,282) and group and deputy leaders of first and second largest minority political parties (allowances ranging from £25,130 to £12,564).

Researcher Geoff Pickering said he was shocked to uncover the extent of the spending – and how arbitrary it appeared to be: “They don’t link in with the size of the authority, the number of residents or their turnover.

“Councils can put forward special expenses for anything they feel is appropriate and that is then checked by an independent panel which makes the award. Payments for running scrutiny committees or the Cabinet, things directly to do with the working of the council, are perfectly legitimate, as are the basic allowances.

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“But what we looked at was simply political roles that had nothing to do with the functioning of the council. Councils like Bradford, given the cuts in public spending, need to justify why they are making these payments.”

Leeds came second in the list of top spenders. It spends £86,231 for four chief whips and two deputy whips, three “opposition group office holders” as well as £25,050 on the group leader of the first minority political party.

Kirklees was third, spending £50,331, North East Lincolnshire £33,050 and Sheffield £30,824.

Three councils, Boston, North Kesteven and Richmondshire spent nothing on political SRAs while 16 others, including Hull, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley, spent less than £12,000.

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East Riding Council – which has a population bigger than Bradford – spent £29,048, including payment to a chief whip (£3,794) and group secretary (£11,697) – and the group leaders of the three minority parties (£3509 each).

Bradford Council said SRAs were paid in accordance with regulations and in roles which assist “in the discharge of the council’s functions which are over and above that of a ward member and includes the political management of the organisation.”

Allowances are approved by full council with advice from their independent remuneration panel, it added.

Leeds said it was by far the biggest council in Yorkshire, and the second largest in the country. It had recently agreed three per cent cuts to allowances as recommended by an independent panel, saving £30,000.

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A spokesman added: “We strongly believe service as a councillor should not be confined to those with independent means...

“The amounts involved represent a tiny proportion of the turnover of the council, at around one pound each decade per member of the population of Leeds, and are subject to full public scrutiny.”

Comment: Page 12.