Yesterday a session of the Democratic Services Committee of Wrexham Council was held with Councillor pay on the agenda.
At a fruity Full Council meeting in March, just before the local elections, the normal ‘noting’ of a pay report was derailed by a Labour group amendment asking that Wrexham Council take a different banding route on pay for senior and civic roles.
When the amendment to Council was placed back in March it was described as shambolic, with a cock up in how the amendment was presented meaning a pay rise was at one point suggested. With many feeling blindsided with the proposal, and some appearing to not even know there were sub-levels of pay adjustments possible, it was suggested that the topic be taken back to Committee for discussion, where it ended up yesterday.
Councillor pay decision making is in theory taken out of Councillor’s hands via the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales (IRPW). The IRPW has allocated each Council to a Group dependent upon the population of the Council area and sets differing senior salary levels for each Group. Wrexham falls within Group B with a population between 100,000 and 200,000.
There is some discretion for Councils in setting the senior salary for Executive Members and Committee Chairs to enable Councils to set salaries for those roles at one of two levels.
As the information report to Councillors yesterday noted, “In addition the Council pays a salary to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for their civic role, including the chairing of Council meetings. There are three levels of remuneration for Civic heads and the Council currently pays these posts at level 2.”
In theory there is discretion for Wrexham Council to pay at lower levels, outlined in the below table, meaning a total annual saving of £41,700 or £208,500 over the usual 5 year term of a Council. The table notes eight Executive Board members, rather than the ten at Wrexham Council – although two are the Leader and Deputy Leader.
Councillors yesterday were asked to ‘consider the implications of exercising discretion on salary levels and recommend to Council accordingly’, with Council Leader Mark Pritchard and other ‘guests’ attending and speaking at the debate.
Councillor Derek Wright said: “As community leaders we should be showing the way, as first under the Liberal Conservative Government pay cap and now Conservative pay cap, we as Councillors taking the top rate of salaries is not the way to show forward to the people of Wrexham. I think we should be taking the lower end of the wedge. We should be showing the people of Wrexham we empathise with the financial pressure they are under.”
Councillor Dana Davies asked the Committee to consider writing to the IRPW to allow local authorities to have more choice at sub-banding levels.
Councillor Andrew Atkinson said, “On what I have heard so far this is something we need to lead by example on” adding he would support a letter being written to the IRPW.
A frustrated Councillor Bill Baldwin was unsure what the letter would contain, and as the proposal had come from outside of the committee via Dana Davies as a guest and was not technically a resolution, he enquired what exactly was before the committee.
The meeting was told that the IRPW will be visiting all Councils as part of a review, and will be in Wrexham in mid-September, and such a feedback route could be a good option if Councillors had issues.
Council Leader Mark Pritchard spoke about his concerns over any changes due to ‘equality’, pointing out he believed that ‘a Chair in Wrexham should be on exactly the same money as a Chair in Denbighshire’ adding that in his opinion the IRPW ‘had got it wrong from day one’ by setting various sub-scales. Councillor Pritchard asked the Committee to not write to the IRPW over what was suggested by Dana Davies, rather ask the IRPW to ensure all salaries are the same for the same job across Wales.
Later Councillor Pritchard said he felt there was ‘a will, and a political point, to push this forward’, firmly observing “You are a Scrutiny Committee and you should make decisions in a balance and fair way”, saying he believed it appeared that Councillors were looking to bring decision making over pay back into the hands of local Councillors.
“You should not be pushed into a decision today when you really do not understand it, I suggest a Task and Finish Group is the best way forward, to give you the time and opportunity to look at it.”
The Committee were given a quick ‘history lesson for the new members’ by the Council Leader, pointing out the process and pathway on how the topic came before them, referring to previous public Council discussions as ‘a bloodbath’ adding, ‘you don’t want that, you really do not want to be doing that, it is not fair to yourselves or the public.’
Councillors of the Committee were asked to vote on recommending to ‘adopt the lower level of the band that we are in to take (yearly) cuts of around £40,000’, with the Chair adding: “That is a choice we have at the moment, wether we should have the choice or not, it is factual”.
During the vote count there were confusing scenes as Councillor Alan Edwards said he would prefer to have known what the two votes were going to be on so he could decide on how he was going to vote. Councillor Atkinson chimed in to point out the second vote, on writing a letter, would have elements of the first vote contained within it.
After some housekeeping it was decided to keep the two issues separate, and a vote was taken.
The motion voted on was specific to ‘paying the lower level for senior salaries’, with five Councillors voting in favour, no votes against, and six abstaining. The specific wording omitted the mention of civic salaries, however the spirit of the meeting did imply they were considered as well as senior salaries, so the fate of the £4500 a year savings as the above table shows is unknown.
The second resolution about writing to the IRPW was about to be voted on when it was then discussed again, with it being altered to change to agree on forming a Task and Finish Group to discuss writing to the IRPW and/or the Local Government Association. Councillor Carrie Harper suggested expanding the remit of the Task and Finish Group to consider wider elements of pay than just letter writing.
Councillor Bill Baldwin was unhappy again with the running of the meeting, pointing out that he felt the recommendations being voted on should have been firmed up before any votes took place, rather than being adjusted and even torn up during the voting process.
A vote was finally taken, with all but Councillor Baldwin supporting that move, raising his hand to say, ‘Go on then, I will go against.’ A Take and Finish Group will be formed, with it’s first meeting to decide what the remit of the Group shall be.
Wrexham.com Filming Request
Prior to yesterday’s meeting we wrote to the Chair requesting that we were able to film the proceedings as a test of some new equipment which may help our reporting. The Chair kindly invited Wrexham.com to briefly address the meeting and take questions from members on our request. We told the meeting it was an equipment test and we would not ‘broadcast’ our recording, and will feedback in the future to hopefully help enable more open democracy in Wrexham.
Our recording was successful and a useful learning exercise for us. We thank the Chair and Councillors for allowing and supporting the move. The main issues raised by Councillors revolved around concerns over editing of any footage, and how to deal with those in the ‘public gallery’ who may not wish to be filmed.