A row has broken out over the Full Council meeting on Wednesday, with a large part surrounding the question on if councillor pay was in the budget that was voted through.
We have conducted a quick fact check with Wrexham Council and relooked at the proposals before councillors.
The barney has largely been occurring on social media, however lengthy statements have also been referenced in the dispute over what was said in the meeting and if councillor pay was in the budget. Wrexham Council Leader Mark Pritchard last year prophetically warned that such pay debates can be a ‘bloodbath’, and it appears his words are coming true.
A local Labour statement said on Thursday: “Yesterday the Tory / Independent run Council in Wrexham voted for the following: increase your council tax bill, accept a pay rise for themselves, ensure that councillors get cheaper parking in the town centre than residents and especially disabled people, Cut services in schools for our children.”
Later the local Conservatives said: “The reality is the Labour group agreed with the vast majority of the proposed budget. It is very disappointing therefore that once again the opposition are trying to mislead the public to deflect attention from their alternative proposals by suggesting councillors awarded themselves a pay rise as part of the budget. This was not the case.”
On twitter Wrexham Conservatives went further to say there was no pay element: “This ‘pay rise’ talk is a complete lie” adding Labour “need to apologise and retract these lies” and asked for Cllr Dana Davies to ‘consider her position‘. The Wrexham Conservatives account also retweeted a comment (liked by Lead Member Terry Evans) that correctly stated there was no talk of pay rises in the meeting (along with no discussion other sub-items) and replied ‘Complete fabrication from Wrexham Labour‘.
So what was in the budget on Councillor pay?
We suspected the eighth column on the overview sheet of the budget proposed by the administration (PDF here) that had a £10k figure under Unavoidable Commitments for Corporate & Customer Services could be the councillor pay sum. This would neatly fit 50 councillors taking up a £200 pay rise (with our understanding two formally opting out at the moment) and would be in the right Council department.
We double checked, and have been told that figure relates to costs of additional duties relating to a Data Protection Officer as required by General Data Protection Regulation – a new data protection ruling coming in to force soon – and not councillor pay.
We then asked if councillor pay was in the budget anywhere, as there was an likely uplift from the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales of £200 a councillor due from April.
Wrexham Council helpfully pointed us to last month’s Executive Board meeting, specifically the Appendix 3 on the budget item (here). That document (PDF here) is the 2018-19 budget plan, that contains the following £10,400 figure, attributed to covering “Members Allowances (£200 per member)”:
That budget document was circulated to all councillors and made public, and was approved by the Executive Board in January.
This then made its way to Full Council on Wednesday evening, where it was voted on and approved by the majority of councillors (our meeting report is here).
Last year we wrote about the £200-a-councillor pay increase proposal, and thus why it is appearing in the budget: “The increase proposed equates to 1.49% and would take effect from April 2018.”
In our report on the resulting Democratic Services Committee meeting we noted: “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.”
As we wrote, Plaid Cymru, Labour and Conservatives all spoke against the planned increase – although some Independents and Conservatives abstained from a vote that evening.
That report also includes a copy of letter from Council Leader Mark Pritchard to the Independent Renumeration Panel for Wales that expresses ‘disappointment with the IRP for not taking into consideration the current wider economic climate when settling the increase in pay‘, it also added equally firm comments over the removal of lower banding of senior salaries – something Wrexham councillors did have discretion over.
We think the final determination (importantly it is *not* a recommendation) from the IRPW is due to go before Council next month, however the £10,400 to cover 100% of the funding of what is the likely but not confirmed outcome has already been agreed in the budget and voted through on Wednesday night.
The budget from the administration, that was voted through with a majority from the Independent groups and Conservatives, contained the £10,400 sum. The public information on the alternative budget presented by Labour, supported by Plaid Cymru and others does not make reference to the £10,400 sum, so we presume it was also in there too.
For completion, that ‘determination’ from the IRPW will come via a report that is ‘noted’ via a vote . The unanswered questions are what happens if that vote does not pass and the report is not noted, or what would have happened in the scenario of the determination coming back without it being budgeted. Previously in 2014 we amended this report from a 2014 Executive Board meeting to draw the distinction between ‘noting’ a IRPW report and ‘voting for’ the report that gives the pay rise.
You can watch the debate from Wednesday on the Council’s webcasting stream archive here.
VOTE: Labour alternative budget voted down – main budget proposal likely to be voted through in a tick with the reversed votes! ( For 16 Against 30 Abstain 1 ) pic.twitter.com/CsQPRqEvOH
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) February 21, 2018
There is a political argument that is playing out via statements and social media posts over the pay rise question, which side you come down will likely be based off your own views. Hopefully the above will give a reference point for those who wish to have some detail on what was in the various budget documents that were voted on at Wednesdays meeting.