Council members’ allowances in Westminster have become the subject of fierce debate and an unexpected flash point following the local budget last week.
Allowances for cabinet members are increasing by up to 45%, prompting Conservatives to accuse the Labour council of ‘filling its pockets with taxpayers’ money’.
What are members’ allowances?
Councillors, including both majority and opposition members are entitled to claim a basic allowance (£9,790 in Westminster). Members with additional responsibilities have Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) on top of this, ranging from £2,263 for Pension Fund committee members to £41,612 for the Council Leader.
All councillors are able to claim additional expenses such as travel receipts to duties and carers’ allowances.
Rates are set by the Independent Renumeration Panel, which recommends annual increases to be voted on at the annual budget.
By how much have they increased?
Last week, as part of the budget, councillors voted in favour of a pay rise for senior members.
In some cases this was a modest increase, with the both the Council Leader and the Leader of the Opposition getting just 4.04% more than last year – the same percentage rise as the basic allowance. The two deputy leaders got a slightly larger boost, with an increase of 16%.
But by far the largest salary increase was a 45% rise for all cabinet members, who can now claim £17,008, up from £11,733 last year.
On the other hand, other positions saw no change form last year, including both the majority party whip and opposition whips.
The council also agreed to pay members for up to an hour before meetings, instead of just the half an hour previously.
What have councillors said?
The council insists that the uplifts are reasonable, given that Westminster has traditionally paid less than neighbouring boroughs. While Deputy Leaders here get £23,483, the same position in Kensington and Chelsea can claim £37,511.
Conservatives however have accused councillors of ‘filling their pockets with taxpayers’ money’, and have sought to shine a light on the pay rises, even taking the debate to a national level.
On Wednesday, Cities of London and Westminster MP, Nickie Aiken asked the Prime Minister whether he shared her ‘astonishment’ that councillors’ allowances were going up at the same time as rents and council tax.
She said: “Governments at all levels, national and local, should always strive to deliver value for money, particularly in a cost of living crisis. Therefore does the Prime Minister share my astonishment that my local Labour led Westminster Council voted last week to raise council tax by 2%, housing tenant by 7% and increase allowances for senior councillors by up to a staggering 45%?”
Sunak replied: “Well Mr Speaker, it is disappointing to see that – I think it’s been just under a year – that the now Labour-run Westminster Council has put up its own councillors’ pay ahead of everything else.
“I can’t quite believe the figures we heard from my honourable friend, a staggering, eye-watering 45% pay increase when people across our country and indeed her ward are suffering cost of living pressures.”
He added: ‘It’s clear Mr Speaker that it’s only Conservative-run councils that deliver for their residents.”