A COUNCIL facing budget cuts of around £46m this year is in danger of damaging its reputation if it agrees to pay a number of councillors more money to do their jobs, it is claimed.
Northumberland County Council – which plans to axe hundreds of jobs and wants to cut the size of redundancy payments to workers who leave – is being urged to spend about £10,000 on bumping up the allowances paid to six members.
The recommendation has come from the authority’s Independent Remuneration Panel, which was convened last year to look into pay rates for a small number of posts.
It advocates introducing special responsibility allowances of just over £4,000 each for the two councillors who chair the audit and pension fund committees – posts which were previously unpaid.
The panel also recommends that the special allowances paid to four councillors with the roles of “policy development manager” should go up from £3,700 to just over £4,000.
Members of the Liberal Democrat-led unitary authority will be asked to decide whether to accept the recommendations at a meeting of the full council next week.
But a report to the meeting, by democratic services manager Paddy Gascoigne, says: “The recommendations come at a time of severe financial cutbacks and, if implemented, could harm the council’s reputation.”
The authority has to find budget savings of £100m over the next four years.
It has been planning to make cuts of £60m in 2011/12, although that figure has now been reduced to about £46m, with some savings shifted into the following year.
The Independent Remuneration Panel is convened to advise and make recommendations whenever the council is considering changes to its scheme for councillors allowances, which costs a total of £1.3m a year.
Council leaders have resisted previous calls for councillors to take a pay cut as part of the massive cutbacks, and are now expected to back the panel’s latest recommendations.
Earlier this week The Journal revealed how the authority is planning to change its current severance scheme, which would result in workers getting lower redundancy payouts when they leave as part of the cost-cutting.
Yesterday Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “I can see an argument for an allowance for the chair of the pension fund, which is quite an onerous and important job in the current climate.
“However, this is an emotive subject at times like this, and it is not really the right time to be proposing to pay councillors more.’’
Panel chairman Dr Declan Hall said: “The panel, while mindful of the current economic climate, has sought to balance this context against what it feels the posts under consultation are worth.”
The report to next week’s meeting says there is sufficient underspend in the members’ allowances budget to pay for the proposed increases.
Yesterday Coun Andrew Tebbutt, executive member for corporate resources, said: “We have consistently taken the view that this is an independent panel and that its recommendations should stand. Otherwise, it is the council which is setting the allowances, not the panel.
“I would hope most people would accept, notwithstanding the cuts and pressures we are facing, that if an independent panel says that councillors doing a particular job should be paid an allowance, then that is justified.’’
Conservative group leader, Peter Jackson, said: “This review has been promised for some time and we support the panel’s recommendations.’’