First increase in 15 years will see a 38% jump in allowances
Merton Council's headquarters
Merton Councillors have voted themselves an immediate 38% rise in their allowances, taking the annual allowance from £8,694 to £12,014.
Whilst it is the first increase in their allowances in 15 years and matches the recommendations of an independent panel, it is more than the rate of salary increases given to council staff over the same time period.
The decision to award the 38.2% increase was made at a Full Council meeting earlier this month, in which there was a request for a recorded vote. There were 30 votes in favour, 25 against and one abstention.
A cross-party working group to review the recommendations of the London Council’s Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) met three times in June before making its proposals to the July meeting of the Standards and General Purposes Committee, the full council meeting was told.
A report to the council meeting on September 13 pointed out that councillor allowances have not increased since 2008, and the level of basic allowance of £8,694 was now one of the lowest in London.
It added that if the annual uplifts had been applied in line with Merton Council staff pay, the basic allowance in 2022 would have been set at £10,057 – which is still “considerably lower than the average in London today.”
However, Merton staff have since been given a pay rise in 2023, so the difference is not quite as wide.
A ‘multiplier’ system to give extra allowances to members with extra responsibilities, means Leader Ross Garrod will see his allowance rise to £48,056, which is also a 38.2% increase from his current £34,776 allowance. However, it is below the figure of £62,092 recommended by the IRP.
The Lib-Dems put forward an amendment to request proposals were bought forward to reduce the maximum size of the Cabinet to limit the additional expenditure arising from the 176% increase in the Special Responsibility Allowance for Cabinet Members, as well as seeking to remove additional payments for 'political roles' like whips and deputy group leaders. But that was defeated with 18 votes in favour, 36 against and two absentions.
In total, the overall cost of the proposed allowances rises from £695,341 to £1,071,050 - an increase of £375,709. The report to the council says there is provision for the increase in the contingency budget and, as the council is part-way through its budgeting year, this year’s cost will be £199,000.
The report to the council stated: “The IRP explains that following the challenges of the last few years, including the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, has placed a ‘major impact on the demands placed on all councillors and of those councillors charged with special responsibilities’.”
It added that one member of the working group “expressed some concern about whether, in light of the cost-of-living crisis, now was the right time to increase allowances at the percentage proposed and in a single change, but although the Group acknowledged this valid concern, it did agree, unanimously, to recommend the adoption of the IRP 2022 recommendation of £12,014.”
A council spokesperson said after the meeting: “In recent years, local councillors have become more relied upon than ever in helping residents during the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. Despite the increasing demand placed on councillors and the time they need to give to the role, Merton has had some of the lowest allowances anywhere in London, and they have not been increased for 15 years.
“This review will help ensure that the opportunity of becoming a local councillor in Merton is open and accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances. This review follows the recommendations of the Independent Remuneration Panel; and the proposals were agreed as part of a cross-party working group. They will help bring Merton more in line with other councils in London.”
September 25, 2023