AN IDEA to base councillors' allowances on average weekly earnings in East Lancashire has been scrapped.
The suggestion was put forward by the Leaders' Policy Development Board which comprises three Conservative and three Labour members of Hyndburn Council. If accepted, it could have seen basic allowances rise by 150 per cent from £3,100 to £7,850.
But the Independent Remuneration Panel, which makes recommendations on councillors' expenses, refused to even consider it in this year's review.
The committee said in its report: "We feel that the issue is a fundamental one, which it would be inappropriate to consider as an adjunct to our current review and without the benefit of very thorough investigation.''
The council's Tory leader Peter Britcliffe said afterwards that, although he thought it should be looked at, the idea was basically a non-starter anyway as it could have cost up to £166,000 a year and led to a significant increase in council tax. The current £3,100 is higher than neighbouring authorities. Burnley and Pendle pays £1,200, Ribble Valley £1,500 and Rossendale just £1,000.
Other aspects of the allowance system also caused a party split at a council meeting.
The Leaders' Policy Development Board had recommended higher figures than that put forward by the independent body. They were for an evening meal allowance of £15 (£9), a hotel allowance outside London of £100 (£85) and a London hotel allowance of £150 (£100). But the lower figures were accepted in each case after Labour outvoted the ruling Tories who had several members absent from the meeting.
It was also decided that a tea allowance should be abolished, rail travel would be paid at the second-class rate and a cycling allowance of £20 a year would be paid to members who cycle to meetings.
Hyndburn MP Greg Pope was amazed by the request to consider an increase in the basic allowance. He said: "It's a matter for the leader of the council if he wants to spend council tax payers' money in that way. But I raise my eyebrows at this when inflation is less than three per cent. I am not sure what message it sends out to people in the public sector who are getting modest increases.''
But Councillor David Myles, a Labour Policy Board member, believes an increase is needed to attract younger people into politics. He said: "It would be a hell of an increase and I don't necessarily support it. But I don't think £3,000 is enough. We are getting way below the minimum wage, and it isn't representative of what people are earning in Hyndburn at all. However, I don't think councillors should be involved in setting their own allowances. It should be done by Government."
Outside the meeting, Councillor Ian Ormerod, former council leader, said the Conservative amendments were "quite rightly voted down''. He said: "I pulled up three central London hotels on the Teletext which cost between £50 and £60 bed and breakfast. Those are not back street hotels. Why should councillors go away and enjoy themselves at taxpayers' expense?"
The basic allowance replaced attendance allowances a couple of years ago. It is topped up by special responsibility allowances for senior figures. The council leader receives £12,400, the deputy leader £6,200, the leader of the opposition £4,650 and a Cabinet member £4,650.
The independent panel also agreed a rise in mileage rates and an increase in meals allowances from £4.92 to £5.20 for breakfast, £6.77 to £7.20 for lunch and £8.38 to £9 for dinner. But the £2.84 tea allowance was scrapped.
- ASKED to comment on our story, council leader Peter Britcliffe said: "The reality is that over the past few years the council has consistently opted for lower expenses than those originally recommended by the Independent Panel. We have no intention of going for silly rises and we are committed, as ever, to providing people with good value for money.''