OPPOSITION councillors in South Tyneside have called for an overhaul of the system scrutinising town hall allowances.
The call came after councillors in the borough rubber-stamped proposals from an independent remuneration panel to freeze their allowances – currently at £7,226 – for 2013/14 at a full council meeting.
But the leader of the opposition group, Coun George Elsom, Independent, called for an end to free food and first-class travel, cuts to allowances and for the pay panel to be drawn from decision-makers outside of the borough.
Coun Elsom said: “I agree there should no rise in councillors’ allowances, but I am a little dubious about whether the independent panel is really independent. We have a person on the panel from South Tyneside College, one from the Port of Tyne.
“I don’t think it can be truly independent if these are people that work in the borough.
“The panel should be drawn from people outside the borough.
“We should also halve special responsibility allowances, not freeze them.”
The independent panel had recommended that the special responsibility allowances, paid to the leader and deputy leader of the council, Coun Iain Malcolm and Coun Alan Kerr, should rise by five per cent.
But Coun Iain Malcolm – who receives £26,496 for his leadership role – and Coun Kerr have rejected the increase, insisting it would be be the right move to make in the economic climate.
Coun Ed Malcolm, lead member for resources and innovation, defended the independent panel and said members could decide not to accept their allowances, but argued that satisafactory levels of pay was important to continue to draw more councillors into the chambers.
He told the council meeting: “There is a provision within the system where members can not accept their allowances.
“The panel is made up of highly-respected members of our community. We want for people to become councillors and they have a lot of decisions to make when considering becoming a councillor. Remuneration does play a part in that.”
Borough council staff have endured their own three-year pay freeze. During this time, the council has made £75m in savings and more than 1,000 local authority posts have been shed.