Councillors slammed over ‘pay rise’ despite authority’s £542million debts

South Shields Town Hall
South Shields Town Hall

Councillors in South Tyneside are under fire for considering awarding themselves pay rises despite the authority being £542million in debt.

They will tonight decide whether to boost their allowances by one per cent – backdated to April – and also raise them by another one per cent next April.

The decision, set to be made when the full council meets at Jarrow Town Hall, has been blasted by the TaxPayers Alliance - which branded it as “sickening”.

The campaigning group say the local authority - which has shed hundreds of jobs and cut services in recent years - has a “poor record” of protecting taxpayers interests with Council Tax increased 15 times in the past 20 years.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “When it comes to protecting taxpayers’ interests, South Tyneside Council has a very poor record, having wasted considerable amounts and increased Council Tax 15 times in 20 years.

“With budgets tight for the council and families alike, hard-pressed local residents will find any rise in councillors’ allowances difficult to swallow, while a back-dated increase would simply be sickening.

Council leader Iain Malcolm

Council leader Iain Malcolm

“Taxpayers expect their money to be spent paying for things like roads and adult social care, not lining the pockets of local politicians.”

The council - which has 53 Labour councillors out of 54 - say the increase in allowances would be in line with the pay award for council staff agreed earlier this year.

It also says this is the first time basic and subsistence allowances have been increased since 2009.

Sole opposition Councillor Lee Hughes says he will not be voting for a rise.

“How can you morally vote for it knowing people are losing jobs, the debt the council are in and the cuts to services that are being carried out.”

Coun Lee Hughes

The Putting People First councillor says he can find “no justification” for the increase when the council is facing such huge financial problems.

He said: “How can you morally vote for it knowing people are losing jobs, the financial crisis the council are in and the cuts to services which are being carried out.

“Voting for it would be a kick in the teeth for the residents of the borough and show a total disregard to those who put them in the position they are in. ”

One Labour member, who did not want to be named, said: “The council has millions of pounds worth of cash problems but yet there are some people who think we should award ourselves a rise in our allowances. It’s morally wrong.

“If there is money available then surely we should be looking at diverting any extra cash into either protecting jobs or protecting services for the benefit of our residents.”

A spokesman for the council said: “The recommendations, which will be discussed at the borough council meeting, are for a one per cent rise in Members’ Allowances, backdated to 1 April of this year, in line with the pay award for council staff agreed earlier this year.

“It is also recommended that allowances are increased by a further one per cent next April which, again, is the same as the pay award agreed for council staff for 2017/18.

“If agreed, this will be the first time that basic and subsistence allowances have been increased since 2009.”

“The council had total outstanding debt, as at March 31, 2016 of £542m. This is repayable over a range of periods up to 50 years. In line with Government rules, the council only borrows amounts that it can afford to repay.

The meeting of the full council will take place at 6pm.

Members’ Allowances for 2016/17 currently are:

All councillors receive a basic allowance of £7,226. This is in addition to any special responsibility allowance they may receive.

Leader of the council: £26,496

Deputy Leader of the council: £16,860

Cabinet Member: £11,535

Leader of the Main opposition group: £2,409

Police and Crime Panel Member: £4,814

Second Member Transport for the North East Committee: £3,100

Scrutiny Committee/pensions committee

Chair: £9,635 Vice-Chair: £7,226

Appeals panel/licensing committee/planning committee chair: £7,226 vice-chair: £4,814

Community Area Forums chair: £5,817

Human resources Committee/audit committee/contracts performance panel/housing performance panel/safeguarding and education panel/standards committee chair £4,817 vice-chair £2,409

No member should receive more than one special responsibility allowance.

If two posts are held only the higher of the two to be paid.