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Split vote will see Independent Remuneration Panel told pay rise for councillors is ‘wrong’

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Friday, Nov 2nd, 2018.

Proposals to increase the salaries of councillors have been branded “wrong” and “disappointing” – with calls to refuse any pay rise to show ‘solidarity’ with the public during times of austerity.

Members of the council’s democratic services committee discussed the pay increase proposals outlined in the Independent Renumeration Panel for Wales (IRPW) annual report, with the majority speaking out against any such pay rise in the current economic climate.

The recommendations in the panel’s report would see eight members of the executive board senior salary receive over £30,000 a year in a 2.7% increase – taking the overall councillor pay bill almost to the £1,000,000 a year in Wrexham alone. A similar £800 pay rise is also proposed for the leader and deputy leader of Wrexham Council, which locally would bring the salaries up to £49,100 and £34,600.

Committee members  on the whole spoke out against independent proposals to give them a pay rise, although Cllr Beverley Parry-Jones, who represents the Bryn Cefn ward, asked: “Would any resident in any ward be prepared not to take a pay rise in their job if offered?”

When we uniquely wrote our ‘preview’ article ahead of the meeting the feedback on social media and forums from the public was strongly against the rises, with councillors citing some more direct telephone feedback from residents due to the article.

Llay’s Cllr Rob Walsh said the pay proposals were ‘very very disappointing’, adding he had heard from ‘outraged’ members of the public.

He said: “It is not just about the money, this is about public confidence. For the first time I have had people phone me to ask what is going on here? We are proposing budget cuts but then saying pay rises.

“We do need to show solidarity with the public, and say this is not the right time for this.”

Cllr Rob Walsh expressed to us his frustration (shared entirely with us at Wrexham.com) of those who do not fully read articles, as he had to explain that councillors do not set their own pay levels, and in the current system are effectively forced to accept it – although they can proactively write to the finance officer to forgo it.

Cllr Derek Wright, who represents Cefn, spoke in opposition to any pay rise, attacking the IRPW  for ‘ignoring’ feedback in the ‘so called consultation’, adding: “To increase salaries in this period of austerity is disappointing to say the least.

“I have been involved in this process over the last few years, this committee says the same thing, and our views get ignored. They ask for consultation, and we are ignored.”

Rhosnesni Cllr Mike Davies said he was ‘personally unhappy’ at the proposals, saying the context of asking the public to consider cuts to services and higher council tax made him ‘uncomfortable’.

With our article creating some feedback for councillors before the meeting, our live tweeting of comments by Cllr Parry-Jones triggered a range of live-ish feedback.

Cllr Parry-Jones cited recent comments from the prime minister and chancellor regarding being ‘told we are coming out of austerity and things are improving’.

Cllr Parry-Jones added: “As I said last year and this year again, I firmly believe it should be left to an independent body. For openness, honesty and transparency this is a decision for the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales.”

Later she questioned: “Would any resident in any ward be prepared not to take a pay rise in their job if offered?”

“I don’t see why councillors shouldn’t be reimbursed for the efforts they put in to their ward to make it a better place.”

The latter comments have promoted a range of replies to the specific tweet – here.

Cllr Dana Davies, who represents Ruabon, noted the panel’s report on the £800 senior rises ‘alluded to the increase being performance related’, adding it was basically being put forward as ‘performance related pay’ and therefore ‘we will be open to challenge on it’.

Cllr Davies said: “We have got some who deliver 30 reports, and others who deliver half a report in a year.

“It is about credibility and collective responsibility. The Panel are out of step. It puts us all in a very difficult position, is is difficult if they are not seeing the message we are sending.”

Cllr Brian Cameron, Whitegate ward, said he was about to do a common ‘I echo all the comments so far’, but specifically distanced himself from Cllr Parry-Jones.

Cllr Cameron said he was strongly against any pay increase as people were ‘bleeding out there’, but also indicated the process was not clear to some councillors until recently as ‘we always thought in the past we had to take it’, indicating he and possibly others in his grouping donated rises to charity.

Council Leader Mark Pritchard, Esclusham ward, said he welcomed the introduction of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales in 2010 and still supported the levels of pay being taken out councillors hands.

He said: “It is a mixed bag. Some will make public statement saying ‘I am not taking it’ leaving it in the council pot, that is fine. Others will say they the council will waste it and will take it, and give to local community organisations, or national organisations. That is also fine.

“I hope this time this is not a debate on if we should take it or not, that should be in the gift of every elected member. Some however say they should not increase, do they feel the same about the fire service or is that just the council?

“If you say no increase today are you saying the same on the fire authority? They are asking for 17.5 per cent, there is either a reason for an increase or not.”

“I wish there was a webcam in here so the public can see how we react in the debate. You should not be scared of it. Members say they are scared of the IRPW announcement, we do not make the decision, it is in the gift of them.

“Elected members have it in their gift, take it or give it away. That is what it is about to me.”

Cllr Wright weighed in on the fire service, saying ‘they should be separate and have their own budget rather than rely on councils for donations. The 17.5%, they should not tell councils what they want and get it added to the precepts’. Perhaps recognising the debate was veering elsewhere, he then called for a vote to move business on.

Wynnstay Cllr Malcom King noted a response would be created from Wrexham Council to the IRPW, and would be formulated between himself and Cllr Pritchard and shared to councillors before it being sent off.

Such collaborative working between Cllrs King and Pritchard was the second mention in the meeting, with a previous agenda item seeing such togetherness jokingly described as a ‘bromance’. This basic search of our twitter history gives a flavour of previous relations.

Cllr King spoke to say: “Yes very few are awarded a pay rise and are not expected to take it, however we are not fire officers, not local authority employees, and are not working in general economy here.

“We are 52 elected members, elected community leaders. This is a leadership issue.

“It is fair to say if there were signs of austerity being over, that last eight years of pay restraint where generally people are no better off eight years ago will not be replaced in next year or fifteen.

“It is often called a ‘wage scar’. I am sure we are worth every penny and all that, but that is irrelevant to the issue. There is only 52 of us, in no other services are people elected to lead. To take this would be a shortfall in our duties as community leaders.”

Cllr Bill Baldwin, Little Acton, asked for the response to the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales last year to be read out, and said he felt this years should be similar again.

Cllr Wright spoke of his recommendation noting that the committee was ‘disappointed again views are being ignored’, and that the current austerity climate is taken into account, and that it is ‘wrong to give a pay increase’.

A vote was taken to effectively back the drafting of a response incorporating those views by Cllrs King and Pritchard for circulation, with the committee voting 4 in favour for the move.

Cllrs Barrie Warburton, Gwersyllt North, and Cllr Baldwin abstained, indicating they would ‘want to read what is in it before agreeing to it’, and Cllr Parry-Jones voting against.

Copies of our live tweets are archived below in reverse order….

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