Agenda item

Report of the Independent Remuneration Panel on Member Scheme Allowances 2020 - 2023 (Agenda item 14)

Report of Maxine O’Mahony, Executive Director Strategy & Governance.

Minutes:

Mark Stinson, the Executive Manager for Governance presented the report.

 

In accordance with the Council’s legal obligations, Breckland Council had appointed an Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) to consider and recommend the Members’ Scheme of Allowances. 

 

This Panel had been made up of Jonathan Rogers, Alistair Skipper, Les Spilman, Sam Watts and Andrew Egerton-Smith, the Chairman of the Panel who was in attendance to answer any questions. 

 

Whilst it was at the discretion of the Council to agree any changes to the scheme, the Council was required to have due regard to any recommendations that was made to it by the Independent Remuneration Panel.  

 

The proposals made by the Panel had been set out at Appendix A of the report and also included in the recommendations on page 222 of the agenda pack.  The Panel’s recommended increases had been applied to the current allowances and had been set out in Appendix B of the report. 

 

It was noted that there were a number of errors in respect of applying the formula as shown on Appendix B of the report and these were highlighted and corrected as follows:

 

·        Chairman of the Licensing Committee: £2,840 per annum

·        Chairman of the Committee of the Licensing Authority: £2,840 per annum Leader of the Opposition Group: £2,840 per annum

·       Vice-Chairman of the Council: £2,840 per annum

 

The report was originally scheduled to be heard at a Full Council meeting early in 2020 but the meetings at that time had been cancelled due to the pandemic and as such the proposals from the IRP and had been suggested by the IRP to be backdated to 2020 but to also cover a 3-year period ending on 31 March 2023.  

 

The Leader extended his thanks to the Independent Remuneration Panel that was made up of residents across the District and the County.  He supported recommendations 1, 3 and 4 but proposed an amendment to recommendation 2 as follows:

 

“That the District Councillors Basic/Special Responsibility Allowance is aligned to the locally agreed Breckland staff pay settlement on an annual basis for the period 1 April 2021 – 31 March 2023 and for the period 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 be set at a zero increase”.

 

The Leader hoped that colleagues across the Council would agree with this amendment and again echoed his thanks to the Independent Panel for their hard work and their forbearance in the delay for this coming forward.

 

The Leader’s motion was seconded.

 

Councillor Clarke thanked the Leader for his remarks.  He was going to propose the same but speaking on behalf of the Labour Group, it supported the principle of any increase being linked to staff pay.  There was a detailed process for assessing whether an increase was warranted and had long argued this point.  He asked if a 2% increase in allowances would result in more people of working age becoming Councillors and felt that the times of the meetings should be varied to include some evening meetings as the current timings of the meetings were the biggest barrier.  The Leader had made an amendment to recommendation 2 which he broadly supported but asked if he could also make an amendment to the Leaders motion with a small addition.   

 

The Executive Manager for Governance advised that this was not an amendment the Leader had proposed a motion and it was quite legitimate for any Member to propose an amendment to that motion.   He then repeated the proposed motion to recommendation 2 and advised Councillor Clarke that he could propose an amendment to that motion.

 

Councillor Clarke proposed an addition to the Leader’s motion as follows:

 

“That the Council recommends to Cabinet that this windfall of approximately £9k the backdating of that total amount be distributed equally between any food banks operating in the Breckland Council area”.

 

The addition/amendment to the motion was seconded.

 

The Executive Manager for Governance stated that Councillor Clarke’s amendment was in order and was correct in terms of the Executive powers and Full Council as the allocation of any funding would be an Executive decision.   As it had been moved and seconded then Members had to vote on that amendment.

 

Councillors Jermy, Clarke, Brindle, Atterwill, Birt, Gilbert, Harvey and Wickerson asked for their vote in support of the amendment to be recorded.

 

Following a show of hands, and subject to 3 abstentions, the amendment was lost.

 

Councillor Gilbert had been disappointed that although the IRP had interviewed the Leader and the Chairman of the Planning Committee they had not interviewed or spoken to any Opposition Members.

 

Even though the vote had been lost, Councillor Atterwill asked the Leader what this money of £9,200 would be spent on.  He had been moved by Councillor Terry’s earlier remarks in respect of child hunger in the District and felt certain that the public at large would have gratefully received such a small gesture and put that money to charitable purposes.

 

The Leader thanked colleagues across the political spectrum for their comments.  He reminded Members that Breckland Council had committed over £60k for food hardship across the District and as Councillor Clarke was aware the Council had worked closely with the Dereham Food Bank and continued to work hard across the District for those who found themselves in need. 

 

Funds had already been committed to the Vulnerability Programme therefore in response to Councillor Atterwill’s question, in any prudent budget, if there was a windfall of any type it was only right and proper that it went back to a budget position into Reserves or other baseline positions so that money could be reallocated where that need was most presented. 

 

Whilst the Council had unallocated monies, he felt that it would be inappropriate at this time to automatically allocate it to that position.  However, he was more than prepared, if Members and Officers informed the Cabinet over the coming weeks that there was a need for the Council to increase the current support to food hardship or other needs across the District, the monies would be allocated accordingly.

 

Councillor Borrett supported the Leaders comments.  The reason that the Opposition had been able to support the Breckland budget was due to the Council having a robust and focused set of objectives that included putting money aside to help the vulnerable.  He asked Members to remember that this money was not our money, it was taxpayer’s money and to try and bypass the decision making process without any prior consultation was disappointing but if there proved to be a further demand this could be looked at through the proper procedures.

 

Councillor Birt pointed out that at his very first Council meeting he had made a proposal that was not supported and was told that he needed to make representation to the IRP.  Nearly a year after it had met, he had since discovered what they had said without being given the opportunity to make his own representations and he had not realised that the IRP had even met.  In principle, he supported the idea of paying an allowance to permit everyone to take a part and become a Councillor but he was concerned that the Council seemed to be offering the highest remuneration in Norfolk to Breckland’s Committee Chairmen.  He also asked the IRP why it paid 65p per mile mileage allowance when community car drivers only received 45p per mile and wanted to know what legislation allowed the whole of the 65p to be excluded from income tax.

 

The Executive Manager Governance said that the Chairman of the IRP was in attendance and would be able to respond to Councillor Birt.     

 

Mr Andrew Egerton-Smith thanked the Chairman of the Council for being given the opportunity to speak.  He advised that when the Panel met quite a while ago his clear recollection was that the Panel debated speaking to the Opposition and an invitation had been sent to which no response had been received.  In respect of the mileage allowance, the Panel did consider this to be high but was informed that this amount had been laid down in statute and emphasised that the Panel had been told that there was a system whereby the organisation paying these allowances could receive some form of dispensation from HRMC and this had in fact been done.  More importantly, the Panel had felt very strongly that there should be some separate arrangement for electric cars and had been surprised that there had been no reference made for any such payments to be within the schedule particularly at a time when the authority was looking very carefully at how to work in a greener fashion.

 

Councillor Atterwill referred to Councillor Borrett’s earlier comments and stated that an amendment to provide additional one-off funds to help hungry people was, in his opinion, just being kind and thoughtful.

 

Councillor Kybird pointed out that the 65p per mile was the same rate as Officers were paid and was taxed on monthly basis.

 

Councillor Gilbert could not recall receiving any communication from the IRP.

 

Councillor Jermy stated that he had been a Breckland Councillor since 2011 and had been the Leader of the Opposition for just as long and had received one invitation to speak to the IRP which he had gladly accepted.  He had not received an invitation on this occasion but would be happy to contribute to any discussion going forward. 

 

Members were then asked to vote on the recommendations including the motion to recommendation 2 that had been proposed and seconded, and it was:

 

 RESOLVED that:

 

1.     the Carer’s allowance is increased in line with the increase to the ‘‘Real Living Wage’ on an annual basis and be back dated for the period 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2023.

 

2.     the District Councillors Basic/Special Responsibility Allowance be aligned to the locally agreed Breckland staff pay settlement on an annual basis for the period 1 April 2021 – 31 March 2023 and for the period 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 be set at a zero increase.

 

3.     the Council continues to review any changes to roles and responsibilities undertaken by Councillors and should there be any significant changes and/or requests from Parish Councils to review a request then it will invite the Independent Remuneration Panel to convene to consider the impact of any such changes/request.

 

4.     the Council note that a Member may, by notice in writing given to the proper officer of the authority, elect to forgo their entitlement or any part of his or her entitlement to allowances.

 

Councillor Birt and Councillor Wickerson wanted it to be recorded that they voted in favour of recommendations 1, 3 and 4 but against recommendation 2.

Supporting documents: