Page last updated at 08:16 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 09:16 UK

Councillor allowances 'going up'

By Wesley Stephenson
BBC Radio 5 live Donal MacIntyre show

A man writes a cheque
An independent panel decides by how much councillor allowances should rise

The amount local councillors are paid in allowances in some areas of England has jumped dramatically, a BBC investigation has shown.

Most councils' allowances bill has risen by more than inflation, and in one area doubled in four years.

Council workers' union Unison described the rises as "rank hypocrisy".

But the Local Government Association defended the increases, saying workloads have increased and councillors have long been under paid.

Examine the results of the BBC investigation

Councillors are not salaried. Each receives a basic allowance and those with special responsibility like the council leaders and cabinet members get an extra allowance on top of that.
The basic allowance varies widely and can be as much as £10,000 a year.

The allowances of almost 300 of the 363 councils looked at in the investigation for BBC Radio 5 Live's Donal McIntyre Show, showed an above-inflation rise between 2004 and 2008.

The CPI inflation rate for the period was 7%, but many of the allowances went up by much more than this.

The rise has gone through because we were paid so lowly to start with
Cllr Terry Cutmore, Rochford District Council

The deputy chair of the Local Government Association, Richard Kemp, said traditionally councillors have not been well rewarded.

"Thirty per cent of all councillors give up after their first term so it can't be that much of gravy train if people want to get off it that quickly," he said.

Rochford District Council in Essex had the biggest rise in its allowances bill - of 110 per cent over the four years. Although it is still well below the level of many other councils.

The leader of the council Terry Cutmore was paid almost £10,000 in allowances three years ago. By March 2009, his allowance had gone up to £25,500.

Independent panel

"The reason it's so high is we have actually gone to the average of Essex councils," Councillor Cutmore said.

"That's done through a remuneration panel which is totally independent and the rise has gone through because we were paid so lowly to start with."

Heather Wakefield, from Unison, said: "I think it's rank hypocrisy for councillors to have awarded themselves these increases when our members are being offered a pay rise of 0.5%."

But Ms Wakefield said Councillor Cutmore's allowance needs to be compared with council employees' pay.

"A quarter of a million council workers earn less than the amount the leader of Rochford is awarding himself," she said.

Allowances are voted on by councillors themselves. Initially a recommendation is made to the council by an independent panel made up of people who do not sit on the council.

But the councils can choose to ignore the recommendations. Richard Kemp said that often they will take a lower amount.

"Very few councils actually make a big difference to the recommendations of the independent panel," he said.

Download the free podcast of this story from the 5 Live Donal MacIntyre programme .

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