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Higher allowances proposed for councillors – MPs

Councillors might need higher allowances to encourage a wider group of people to stand for election, a new report suggests.

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee stated that councillors voting for higher allowances for themselves would be intensely unpopular, and the responsibility for setting remuneration should be transferred to an independent local body.

The committee found that time commitment, employer support and the level of income were barriers to more people becoming councillors. This was particularly true for young people, with the average age of councillors around 60.

The Government should also consider whether employers can be given specific incentives to support employees wishing to become a councillor, and local authorities and political parties could offer ‘taster sessions’, the committee recommended.

The exact level of compensation was not specified, but should be “appropriate”, the report states.

Chair of the committee, Labour MP Clive Betts, said: “Few councillors will vote themselves higher allowances even if there is a legitimate reason for doing so, because it provokes so much public controversy. Councils should be given the power to transfer decisions about allowances to independent local bodies.  It would be inconsistent for Parliament to deny councils the option it has chosen for the determination of its own pay and conditions.”

The report states: “Allowances now for front-line councillors, certainly for leading councillors, are high enough to offend the public but not high enough to encourage any sane person to give up their career and earning capacity to take it on.”

Tory chairman Grant Shapps called the move “cynical and sleazy”, as giving councillors higher allowances would be in Labour’s interests, since the party stands to benefit financially – it takes an automatic 7% donation from its councillors’ allowances to fund party work.

Shapps said: “Local taxpayers will be shocked to learn that the Labour Party will be quids in from Labour demands for more taxpayers' money on councillor allowances.”

But a spokesman for Labour responded: “The proposal is not Labour Party policy, it is a recommendation by a cross-party committee with a Government majority that councils ask an independent body to set councillor allowances in future.

“Unless he is instructing all Tory councils and Tory councillors not to take an increase in allowances, then his words are just meaningless posturing.”

Betts said the committee’s decision was unanimous, meaning it was supported by its Conservative members too.

(Image shows Manchester Town Hall)

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