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- The current Members’ Allowances Scheme (The document linked from the current page on the scheme is outdated, and I would suggest needs to be updated with the many amendments which have been made since the point that document was created.)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.
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.