(As the Eastern Daily Press reports today) Norfolk's Conservative county councillors yesterday voted en masse to block a move to discuss the allowances of its 'twin-hatters'.
Following the council election in June, 50 members of Norfolk's 84 seat County Council are twin-hatters, councillors who sit in both in the county council and a district council. Such members enjoy a starting allowance of £12,500, and the highest paid cabinet member - Harry Humphrey - takes home £40,411 from the taxpayer (as a member of the County council, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk borough council and Norfolk Police Authority). Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, is also a South Norfolk district councillor, while William Nunn is also leader of Breckland district council.
Public concern about such allowances and expenses prompted the council's scrutiny committee to schedule a hearing to discuss the issue. But in an outrageous move, designed specifically to prevent discussion and protect taxpayer funded incomes, the Tory group voted to enact a closure motion, curtailing any debate. John Dobson, the Conservative councillor who moved to shelve the issue, claimed the rules for twin hatters were already laid out in the council's constitution, and allowances were set by an independent panel.
Strictly speaking this is true, but if one knows anything about council 'rules' and independent remuneration panels, they also know it's hog wash. Opposition councillors had pressed for the issue to be looked at, arguing that councillors risked looking like MPs over their expenses. In their deliberate and entirely self-interested move to obstruct discussion of an issue that is of considerable public concern, the Tory councillors are indeed brilliantly aping the Westminster MPs doubtless many Norfolk County Councillors hope to be. "It was within the rules" and "We didn't write rules" are the standard refrain for an elected representative who knows that their claims are not entirely above board morally. No one doubts that such claims are within the rules. It's just that the rules are inadequate. And independent panels where council officers and councillors vet the applicants to make sure they are packed with aspirant councillors, do not constitute 'independent' panels.
Tory councillors in Norfolk are hiding behind a legislative motion. They must move immediately to remove the censure, and explain clearly to the public that elected them why they feel they deserve these allowances.