Sharing the pain?

February 01, 2011 10:43 AM

On this occasion, TPA supporter John Martin sets out his ideas for reducing the allowances paid by Norfolk County Council to its members.

Well, Norfolk’s Big Conversation is over and the Norfolk County Council (NCC) Cabinet has announced the recommendations that it will shortly put to the full Council to produce budget cuts of over £60m in the coming financial year. Job losses will be inevitable, however there will be many council employees who will take voluntary redundancy, and many will be approaching retirement age. The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has managed to reduce council tax and increase funding to frontline services. So the headline figure will not be as bad as some might think. What there hasn't been a mention of though is a reduction in the allowances paid to NCC members, and so these are my thoughts to make up for that.

At present, the collective bill for members’ allowances (before reimbursement of travel and subsistence costs) paid by NCC and the seven district councils in Norfolk is in excess of £3 million. NCC’s share of that figure is approximately £1.1 million. But bear in mind that some fifty members of NCC also sit on a district council. (They tend to be referred to as “twin-hatters”.) In the light of the present economic conditions, this large bill has clearly caused some public disquiet. This was apparent, for instance, from some of the responses to the Big Conversation.

There are various reasons why it would be appropriate at this stage for the members of NCC to accept a cut – as opposed to a freeze – in the amount of allowances that they receive. First, there is the basic issue of fairness and setting an example by leadership. In the near future, some 1,300 employees will lose their jobs altogether. The pain rightly should be shared. Secondly, with a much-reduced staff – a further 1,700 employees are being transferred to Norse Group Ltd, a company wholly owned by NCC – and a smaller budget, the responsibility of members is considerably lessened. Thirdly, large tranches of services, e.g. adult social services, are being outsourced with a similar consequence.

(An alternative to a cut in allowances would be a reduction in size of NCC from eighty-four members, but that raises legal and constitutional issues and it could probably not be brought about before the elections in 2013.)

One obvious method of cutting allowances would be on a fixed percentage basis. For instance, a straight 10% cut across the board would save £110,000 annually, and it has a semblance of fairness. However, there is an argument that the basic allowance of approximately £9,000 should be left intact, so that anyone on a lower income is not discouraged from standing for election to NCC. Such an approach might also be viewed as unfair to the small group of single-hatters not in receipt of any additional special responsibility allowance (SRA). Another straightforward approach would be to place an overall cap on the total amount of allowances that any NCC member could be paid. On a rough estimate, if a ceiling of £15,000 were imposed the saving might be in the region £85,000 annually.

To move to the approach of selective cuts, the Cabinet members alone might be asked to make a sacrifice, since they are obviously the best rewarded. A straight 10% cut would, however, produce a saving of only £24,000, which is obviously better than nothing but probably less than the public would hope to see. An alternative would be to ask the fifty twin-hatters to give credit for the basic allowances that they receive from their district councils. This would produce a saving of closer to £200,000, and would have the additional advantage of answering the main criticism that many members of the public have of the twin-hatter system.

A final possibility would be to target some of the forty-five or so roles that attract an SRA. For instance, should the role of NCC Chairman – which is essentially a figurehead role – attract a further allowance of over £10,000? (Bear in mind that on many occasions the role is fulfilled either by the Leader or the Chief Executive.) Do the leader of the main opposition party and his deputy deserve to share an additional  £16,000? Are the six deputy Cabinet members’ duties so onerous that they deserve to be paid an extra £6,000 each? The same question might be asked in the case of the Chairman of the Planning (Regulatory) Committee, who is in receipt of over £5,000 on top of his basic allowance.

A few of us have asked Cllr Derrick Murphy, the NCC Leader, to initiate a full Council debate on this. We await his reaction with bated breath.On this occasion, TPA supporter John Martin sets out his ideas for reducing the allowances paid by Norfolk County Council to its members.

Well, Norfolk’s Big Conversation is over and the Norfolk County Council (NCC) Cabinet has announced the recommendations that it will shortly put to the full Council to produce budget cuts of over £60m in the coming financial year. Job losses will be inevitable, however there will be many council employees who will take voluntary redundancy, and many will be approaching retirement age. The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has managed to reduce council tax and increase funding to frontline services. So the headline figure will not be as bad as some might think. What there hasn't been a mention of though is a reduction in the allowances paid to NCC members, and so these are my thoughts to make up for that.

At present, the collective bill for members’ allowances (before reimbursement of travel and subsistence costs) paid by NCC and the seven district councils in Norfolk is in excess of £3 million. NCC’s share of that figure is approximately £1.1 million. But bear in mind that some fifty members of NCC also sit on a district council. (They tend to be referred to as “twin-hatters”.) In the light of the present economic conditions, this large bill has clearly caused some public disquiet. This was apparent, for instance, from some of the responses to the Big Conversation.

There are various reasons why it would be appropriate at this stage for the members of NCC to accept a cut – as opposed to a freeze – in the amount of allowances that they receive. First, there is the basic issue of fairness and setting an example by leadership. In the near future, some 1,300 employees will lose their jobs altogether. The pain rightly should be shared. Secondly, with a much-reduced staff – a further 1,700 employees are being transferred to Norse Group Ltd, a company wholly owned by NCC – and a smaller budget, the responsibility of members is considerably lessened. Thirdly, large tranches of services, e.g. adult social services, are being outsourced with a similar consequence.

(An alternative to a cut in allowances would be a reduction in size of NCC from eighty-four members, but that raises legal and constitutional issues and it could probably not be brought about before the elections in 2013.)

One obvious method of cutting allowances would be on a fixed percentage basis. For instance, a straight 10% cut across the board would save £110,000 annually, and it has a semblance of fairness. However, there is an argument that the basic allowance of approximately £9,000 should be left intact, so that anyone on a lower income is not discouraged from standing for election to NCC. Such an approach might also be viewed as unfair to the small group of single-hatters not in receipt of any additional special responsibility allowance (SRA). Another straightforward approach would be to place an overall cap on the total amount of allowances that any NCC member could be paid. On a rough estimate, if a ceiling of £15,000 were imposed the saving might be in the region £85,000 annually.

To move to the approach of selective cuts, the Cabinet members alone might be asked to make a sacrifice, since they are obviously the best rewarded. A straight 10% cut would, however, produce a saving of only £24,000, which is obviously better than nothing but probably less than the public would hope to see. An alternative would be to ask the fifty twin-hatters to give credit for the basic allowances that they receive from their district councils. This would produce a saving of closer to £200,000, and would have the additional advantage of answering the main criticism that many members of the public have of the twin-hatter system.

A final possibility would be to target some of the forty-five or so roles that attract an SRA. For instance, should the role of NCC Chairman – which is essentially a figurehead role – attract a further allowance of over £10,000? (Bear in mind that on many occasions the role is fulfilled either by the Leader or the Chief Executive.) Do the leader of the main opposition party and his deputy deserve to share an additional  £16,000? Are the six deputy Cabinet members’ duties so onerous that they deserve to be paid an extra £6,000 each? The same question might be asked in the case of the Chairman of the Planning (Regulatory) Committee, who is in receipt of over £5,000 on top of his basic allowance.

A few of us have asked Cllr Derrick Murphy, the NCC Leader, to initiate a full Council debate on this. We await his reaction with bated breath.

Latest Blogs:

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Working for the taxman

6:00 AM 26, Nov 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Further thoughts on the Autumn Statement

4:56 PM 24, Nov 2016 James Price

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Have we had too much austerity?

10:57 AM 23, Nov 2016 Alex Wild

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Launch a War on Waste and simplify taxes

9:45 AM 23, Nov 2016 The TaxPayers' Alliance

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Reforming capital taxes

6:00 AM 19, Nov 2016 Harry Fairhead