Cambridge City Council – Members’ Allowances


Monday, September 15th, 2008. 12:55am

I have just written to Cambridge City Council suggesting it’s about time they published the details of allowances paid to City Councillors for May 2007 to April 2008:

Cambridge City Council’s webpages listing councillors link to a document providing information on allowances paid to City Councillors for May 2006 to April 2007. I would like to suggest that the link/document be updated to give the data for May 2007 – April 2008.

It is now around five months after the end of the reporting period. I note the council are required by law (The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003) to publish this data “as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of a year “. As well as not publicising this basic data in a timely manner, I don’t think other aspects of the members’ allowance scheme are as easy to find out about as they could be.

On the subject of Members’ Allowances I see Cambridge City Council’s code of Corporate Governance states:

The Council will use an Independent Remuneration Panel to give advice on payments for Members and consider their advice when setting the Members’ Allowance Scheme. The Panel will operate in an open and transparent manner, making their agendas, reports and minutes available to the public.

While I can see the activities of the Independent Remuneration Panel are reported in the papers for Civic Affairs Committee and Council Meetings and are made public via that route I think this makes the information rather deeply hidden. I have suggested that following are made available, preferably together, on the Council’s website:

  • Membership of the Independent Remuneration Panel
  • Independent Remuneration Panel Terms of Reference
  • Independent Remuneration Panel agendas, reports and minutes
  • Times and dates of meetings of the Independent Remuneration Panel
  • The current Members’ Allowances Scheme (The document  linked from the current page on the scheme is outdated, and I would suggest needs to be updated with the many amendments which have been made since the point that document was created.)

Membership of the Independent Remuneration Panel

While the current membership is not published by the Council; on the 21st July 2008 there was a meeting of the panel at which independent members Mike Arnold, Brian Cockburn, Geoffrey Kirkness and George Lidney were present along with Cllrs Boyce (Lib Dem), Herbert (Lab) and Wright (Green & Independent). At that time there was a vacancy on the panel.

Observations

I think it is a bit sneaky to give councillors both a basic allowance and an allowance for being members of an Area Committee, this makes no sense to me as all Councillors are members of Area Committees so the Area Committee allowance could have been included in the basic allowance. Area Committee membership is not a “special responsibility” and should not have been treated as such. Could this be anything other than a rouse to keep the “headline figure” of the basic allowance artificially low?

I also note that the Members’ Allowances Scheme passed at the full Council on 11th September 2008 did not include any travel and subsistence rates, childcare/dependent carer allowance, guidance on out of pocket expenses and co-optees’ allowances. Presumably these allowances have remained the same, however currently they are now not all available in one consolidated document as they have been in the past. I would like to suggest a current “as-amended” up to date Members’ Allowances Scheme is created and publicised. I believe it would probably have been clearer if that document rather than simply the amendments were presented to the Council.

Finally I note there may be further changes as a result of anticipated increases in the Minimum Wage in October 2008. This highlights the need for the Members’ Allowances Scheme to be a living document, kept constantly updated and available to the public. Members’ allowances are one area where, as councillors get to decide how much public money they pay themselves, it is particularly important for their decisions to be as transparent as possible.

My current interest in this was sparked by Cllr Hipkin’s impassioned and compelling argument to a full Council meeting on 11th September 2008 asking for the chair of the Planning Committee, currently Cllr Baker, to have an increased allowance, suggesting the role was more time consuming and carried more responsibilities than that of some executive councillors.

I would also be interested to know if Cllr Blair was both collecting an allowance for childcare and apparently not attending meetings due to them being held during school holidays.

8 comments/updates on “Cambridge City Council – Members’ Allowances

  1. Richard Article author

    Councillor Blair accosted me at the CB1 Transport Issues Meeting” on the 7th of October 2008. She had been reading this post and shouted at me from about a meter away telling me that she does not collect childcare allowance.

    I asked if she could do something to ensure the statement of members allowances is published and she said no, that wasn’t her responsibility. I reminded Cllr Blair that she was a member of the City Council.

  2. Richard Article author

    Gary Clift, the council’s “Democratic Services Manager” has replied to my request for the Members’ Allowances to be published.

    We will arrange to get this information, and the 2008/09 Scheme on the relevant part of the website.
    The FOI officer is looking into why you did not get the information having asked the Customer Service Centre.

    The allowances paid in 2007-8 are available at:
    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/members_allowances_2007_2008

  3. Richard Article author

    Cambridge City Council have now, I presume in response to my lobbying, started listing meetings of the Independent Remuneration Panel on their meetings page. A clear success. Following from this I might attempt to pursue similar openness with respect to the Ranger Steering Group next.

  4. Richard Taylor

    Hi Neale,

    This is an improvement on last year, posting it in a clearly accessible manner is excellent. (Though it has already been in the committee papers and was approved by full council)

    I’ve not had a chance to exhaustively search the council’s website yet but I don’t think how much councillors actually took in 2008-9 has yet been published. So another FOI request might well be in-order to reveal that, like the one I made last year:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/3497/response/7383/attach/2/2008-05-30%20%20Members%20Allowances%20Statement%20for.pdf

    Having my attention drawn to this thread also reminds me I did follow up the Ranger Steering group and was told it operated in an informal manner and so its meeting dates and papers were not suitable for publication.

  5. Chris Howell

    Hi Richard,

    Particularly in the current climate, I think the information people really need is what each Councillor actually received – as soon as that information is available.

    Despite a rather bizarre thread on cam.transport with Cllrs Ward and Rosenstiel suggesting that this is all easily available by reading newspaper archives, it should just be available as a matter of course on the City Council website, and I certainly couldn’t find it.

    I have the figures for YE April 09 – only one Councillor (not Cllr Blair) claimed childcare allowance, and only 11 Councillors in the year claimed any travel expenses, the highest being £267.

    I have written to the leader of the Council and new Chief Executive asking that the full table is published on the web as soon as possible, and await their response,

    Chris

  6. Chris Howell

    I’ve had this back from the CEX at the City Council today:

    “Yes we are planning to do this and the information [on 08/09 allowances and expenses] should go live by Friday.
    The information will be on the Councillors page (link below).
    http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/about-the-council/councillors

    We have also included the information in the statement of accounts.
    We are also due to put a notice in the public notice section of the Cambridge Evening News on 23rd June.”

    You are quite right to question if this reporting is fully inclusive. There is an entitlement (or there always used to be) to a Lion Yard car park pass for use when on Council business only, be interesting to know if the Council keeps records of when they are used…

    Chris

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