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Councillors challenge panel’s proposed pay increase as four abstain from vote

A proposed pay increase for councillors was last week challenged by a number committee members amid concerns it does not reflect the circumstances of budget cuts and public sector pay freezes across the country.

Last week Wrexham.com reported that councillor pay was back on the agenda after the Independent Renumeration Panel for Wales (IRPW) had put forward proposals for a £200 increase for all 52 members in its draft Annual Report.

As readers may or not already be aware of, most elements of the councillor pay rate is not currently directly set by Wrexham Council. Instead it is mainly taken out of their hands and dealt with via the IRPW – which was set up in 2008 to take such decisions from elected members.

In the panel’s draft Annual Report for the next financial year it has been proposed that the basic salary level for all councillors, including those on senior salaries, is increased. This would see the pay increase to £13,600 instead of £13,400 from April 2018 if such proposals are supported.

Also proposed by the panel is the two-tier salary discretion for those in receipt of senior salaries – such as lead members, committee chairs, mayor / deputy mayor and leader of the opposition – is also removed. The roles listed above would however receive the £200 increase put forward by the panel.

Under the proposals put forward by the IRPW the discretion at setting senior salaries would be removed and all councillors would receive a similar £200 increase, resulting in the following changes:

Leader of Wrexham Council: £48,100 > £48,300
Deputy Leader: £33,600 > £33,800
Executive Board Members: £29,100 > £29,300
Committee Chairs (where remunerated): £22,100 > £22,300
Leader of the Opposition: £22,100 > £22,300

Last Thursday afternoon councillors met to discuss the proposed pay increase, with 10 of the 13 members of the Democratic Services Committee in attendance to debate the IRPW’s recommendations.

Plaid Cymru’s Carrie Harper, whose group had been vocal about their plans to refuse the pay rise prior to last week’s meeting, said she felt “uncomfortable” to see the proposed increase for all councillors.

Cllr Harper continued: “We are in a situation where the council are cutting staff and services, the NHS staff in Wales are the only ones in the UK who aren’t getting a pay rise. The public sector in Wales has had a one per cent pay freeze.

“There isn’t enough weighting on the harsh reality of the circumstances we are in.”

She added that while councillors can choose to forgo their pay rises or donate them to charity, they as councillors have a ‘moral obligation’ to show leadership.

Such sentiments were echoed by Labour’s Cllr Brian Apsley, who said it would be “wrong” to accept the £200 pay rise while nurses and those in public sector jobs haven’t seen a pay increase in years.

Conservative Cllr Andrew Atkinson said the pay rise is something he “personally does not want to see” and acknowledged that the decision to take the extra £200 a year would be a decision for the individual councillors to make for themselves.

Cllr Atkinson continued: “My understanding is it’s not something we have control over.

“Assuming I am right in that, I think all we can discuss is what the recommendations are and the feedback we give. To me it is what we put in that response to say how we feel.

“If members are inclined to forgo it, some might keep it, some might donate, perhaps we say timing in inappropriate given the circumstances outlined.

“The position we are in is we leave it to individual councillors.”

Contact officer for the Democratic Services Committee, Sioned Wyn Davies, said: “The council as a body does not have any discretions. The rate fixed by the IRPW is the rate councillors are entitled to be paid at.

“If individual members choose not to receive, they can do that. They must write to the council indicating in writing how much they would wise to forgo – whether it’s in whole, half or just the increase. That is a matter an individual councillor can do, but the head of finance must have that clearly in writing.”

Head of the Labour Group, Cllr Dana Davies, said she was disappointed with the proposals put forward in the report described the IRPW as being “out of step” with what is happening on a national level.

Cllr Davies said: “It has been mentioned that individual councillors can write in, but as a committee you have an opportunity to lead by example for Wrexham.

“In the Labour Group, what we have done is a salary deduction for the increase and on an annual basis we support voluntary and third sector groups in county. We have done that for five years.

“My worry is if goes into pot, we don’t have control where that is spent.

“I would ask why lower salary banding has been removed and the higher level kept. I think we as a council have responsibility for those people we represent.”

Such comments were echoed by Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Rob Walsh, who encouraged members of the public who were concerned about pay increases, to contact their local councillor directly.

The meeting was amongst the first to fall under the new ‘recommendation’ system, which sees committee members form their own rather than agreeing what had been put forward by lead members or officers.

Earlier this month Wrexham.com reported that the scrutiny process that had been in place for some time was to be changed following on from a shambolic and confusing Employment, Business and Investment meeting last month.

As a result of the meeting and general confusion over what had been voted for, lead members and officers presenting a report to committee’s will no longer put forward their own recommendations for approval. Instead members will “propose its own conclusions and recommendations, based on the information in the report and the discussion that takes place at the meeting.”

This did cause some confusion at one point, with Cllr Bill Baldwin stating he would move the recommendation to ‘consider the proposals in the draft Annual Report of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and provide any representations or comments to incorporate in the Council’s consultation response” detailed in the report. However Chairman Malcolm King stated this is not possible and that the committee would have to vote on the recommendations formed and put forward by members.

Two recommendations were put forward by Cllr Harper, which can be found detailed below:

– The Members of the panel wish to express their disappointment with the IRP for not taking into consideration the current wider economic climate when setting the increase in pay.

– The Members of the panel wish to challenge the decision to remove the lower bandings of the senior salaries.

Cllr Harper’s recommendations saw six councillors vote in favour and four abstain (Cllrs Parry Jones, Baldwin, Warbuton and McCusker) from the vote altogether. There were no votes against.

Following on from last week’s meeting a draft response to the IRPW and the recommendations approved by the majority of the committee will be considered by Council Leader and Lead Member for Finance, Performance, Health & Safety and Governance, Cllr Mark Pritchard on Thursday.

The now formed draft response to the IRPW can be viewed in full on page four here, also copied below:

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