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Outcry from Camden Council's backbenches and opposition as Labour group votes to increase councillor pay

PUBLISHED: 17:47 21 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:47 21 August 2019

Camden Council's temporary town hall at the Crowndale Centre. Picture: Creative Commons/Philafrenzy

Camden Council's temporary town hall at the Crowndale Centre. Picture: Creative Commons/Philafrenzy

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A row has broken out inside Camden Council's Labour group after it backed increasing allowances for councillors, cabinet members and the leader.

The vote passed 18-6 at a group meeting on Monday night with several councillors unable to attend due to the meeting's timing in the summer.

Councillors were told the increase would help widen accessibility for people to become councillors by council leader Georgia Gould. Yet others in the group raised concerns about too much of the increase going to councillors who have existing portfolios or responsibilities.

The proposal will see the leader's pay rise from £29,300 to £40,000. Cabinet members will get a near-£10,000 increase to £25,000. Meanwhile others, including scrutiny committee chairs will get an increase of more than £3,500.

For the first time the leader of Camden's second opposition will get a wage of £5,500, and new "cabinet advisors" will be paid £2,000 each. The basic allowance for all councillors increases by £500 to £10,300.

Certain roles, including the mayor, the leader of the opposition and chief whip will not get an increase.

The money paid to those with special responsibilities get their additional money on top of the basic allowance for councillors.

The additional amount comes to more than £145,000. The pay will be backdated to May if it is passed at a full council meeting later this year. It came after a cross-party review.

The new rates fall below many of the recommendations made by the London Councils Independent Review Panel in 2018.

Holborn and Covent Garden councillor Sue Vincent, who was unable to attend the meeting, emailed Labour colleagues to air her objections.

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She said: "Whilst acknowledging that you certainly don't go into local politics for the allowances, recommending such large increases against the backdrop of continued austerity and public sector pay levels, is objectionable.

"I ask why the basic allowance has not been recommended to be substantially increased which would benefit all councillors, particularly ensuring those from BAME, poorer, or working class backgrounds would be able to take up these important local roles?"

Another councillor within the Labour group said the decision not to increase the basis allowance was a missed opportunity to encourage people from differing backgrounds to stand for council.

They added: "We are still in the teeth of austerity, and a big uplift in allowances doesn't look good. It's not about having a wage. It is about public service."

Across the chamber, leader of Camden's opposition Cllr Oliver Cooper said: "It is jaw-dropping for Labour councillors to vote themselves a £150,000-a-year pay rise while cutting services, raising taxes, and pleading poverty. It puts paid to Labour's claims that the council has no money.

"These huge handouts go far beyond keeping up with the cost of living. Labour's proposal would increase cabinet members' pay by twice as much as the cost of living has increased since 2010, while backbench and opposition councillors' allowances have fallen 20 per cent in real terms.

"Earlier this year, Labour wanted to save money by unlawfully slashing the number of scrutiny committees from five to one to stop backbench and opposition councillors scrutinising the administration and improving its performance.

"For Labour to say they can't afford opening themselves up to scrutiny but can afford inflation-busting pay rises for the cabinet says everything you need to know about their priorities."

Councillor Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, said: "An independent review of councillor allowances in London showed a stark gap between Camden councillor allowances and independent recommendations.

"Allowances in Camden have fallen way below the London average after years of freezes. A cross-party review has proposed to increase allowances so they sit closer to the London average.

"Whilst austerity continues we believe it would not be right to increase allowances to the level of the independent panel recommendations. However, the current position is not sustainable. If we want to have diversity of local leaders we have to make sure the affordability and living costs aren't a barrier to people putting themselves forwards to lead."

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