Opposition leader slams cabinet allowances

WAR OF WORDS ... over attendance at meetings by members of South Tyneside Council's cabinet.
WAR OF WORDS ... over attendance at meetings by members of South Tyneside Council's cabinet.

THE leader of South Tyneside Council’s opposition has slammed the attendance records of decision-making cabinet members.

Coun George Elsom believes it’s “a disgrace” that seven of the nine Labour council chiefs get an average of almost £1,000 extra a month for the role.

His views follow figures which show Coun Emma Lewell-Buck, lead member for adult social care and support services, has attended one out of the six possible meetings held during this political year at South Shields Town Hall.

Council leader Coun Iain Malcolm, who has made two appearances, did not receive a rise this year, along with deputy leader, Coun Alan Kerr.

Coun Malcolm hit back over the claims, saying he was on other local government business, so could not attend all the meetings.

Coun Kerr and Coun Ed Malcolm, lead member for resources and innovation, have a full attendance record.

But Coun Elsom, a Real Independent representative, said: “I think it’s a disgrace.

“These cabinet members are getting paid in addition to their normal councillor’s allowances to do a job.

“But very few of them seem to be prepared to attend the designated meetings.

“If people can’t attend these meetings, perhaps due to their jobs, then they shouldn’t be a cabinet member and the role should be passed to someone else who can attend.”

In May, the council agreed to increase the pay for cabinet members by 20 per cent - based on the recommendation of an independent panel - from £9,635 to £11,535.

The cash increase is for work including site visits and preparing reports based on their special responsibilities.

Members also get a basic allowance – which is given to all councillors – of £7,226, taking their pay to £18,761 – more than £360 per week.

Coun Elsom said: “I personally thought the cabinet was overpaid without this extra 20 per cent being added in May.

“They were given a huge pay rise, just a week after the elections, which I am sure the public wouldn’t be happy about, and yet many can’t show up.

“If you go on to the council’s website now, you will see them listed in advance. There’s no excuse to miss them.”

A council spokesman said: “Lead members receive allowances for their decision-making responsibilities across wide and complex portfolios of work which are about much more than just attendance at specific meetings.

“Cabinet members attend weekly meetings with officials, plus an additional 21 half-day and eight evening strategic planning sessions with the chief executive and corporate directors.

“This is a new arrangement which is in addition to cabinet, full council and briefing meetings.

“The recent changes to the special allowances system, which resulted in a small saving to the public purse, were made by an independent panel.

“This followed a review of committee positions and responsibilities and took into account significant extra duties resulting from the transfer of public health to the council from the NHS.”

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SOUTH Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm hit back in the attendance row, insisting his opposition rival should look at his own record.

Coun Malcolm insisted his absences from cabinet meetings were often as a results of attending other local government gatherings.

He said: “I am sorry that Coun Elsom is resorting to such negative campaigning. I personally had hopes that the opposition would engage in a constructive and robust challenge of the Labour Group based on policy, not on personality.

“Nevertheless, for the record and for the sake of clarity, I was unable to attend three cabinet meetings this year because on one occasion my attendance was required at the Local Government Association in London, on another the cabinet was discussing Newcastle Airport and I had a declared interest.

“On the third occasion, I was chairing a regional transport meeting on behalf of the Local Enterprise Partnership, at which Lord Adonis was in attendance.

“Coun Elsom would do well to remember that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

“Coun Elsom, unlike myself, Coun Clare or Lewell-Buck is retired, yet in 2011/12 he only had an attendance rate of 56 per cent at meetings of the full council. Mine was 100 per cent.

“This year, he has only attended one meeting of the East Shields Community Forum, which deals with constituent issues in Cleadon Park, the ward he represents, an attendance rate of just 20 per cent.

“Finally, despite claiming his councillors’ allowance and being entitled to an additional allowance as leader of the opposition, Coun Elsom still refuses to serve on the council’s scrutiny committees, which oversee and challenge the strategy and policies of the ruling Labour group.”