Surrey County Council pay panel resigns over 60% increase

David Hodge Image copyright Surrey County Council
Image caption Conservative David Hodge is the current leader of Surrey County Council

An independent panel set up to recommend allowances for Surrey County Council (SCC) members has resigned after its proposals were thrown out.

The ruling Tory group gave a 59% pay rise to leader David Hodge, taking his allowance from £27,000 to £43,000 instead of the recommended £35,548.

Panel chairman Cathy Rollinson said the "flagrant disregard" of its proposals left no alternative but resignation.

SCC said councillors' workload and responsibilities had increased.

Cabinet posts

The three members of SCC's independent remuneration panel (IRP) made recommendations to the full council meeting on 6 May.

The meeting also increased the deputy leader's pay by 60% from £19,500 to £31,250 instead of the recommended £30,333.

Four recently introduced cabinet associate posts were awarded £12,500 - 18% more than the IRP recommended.

The IRP said it recognised that the basic allowance paid to all 81 councillors had not been raised since 2008, and recommended a "modest" increase of 5.3% from £11,791 to £12,418, which was agreed by the council.

'Not right'

Ms Rollinson said the total increase in allowances would now cost £62,000 a year more than the IRP's proposals.

"Like most members of the public we do not believe it is right for councillors to award themselves pay rises against the advice of an independent panel," she added.

"The council also rejected the panel's suggestion that the increases might be phased in over several years, deciding to implement them all with immediate effect.

"As a result of the total disregard which the county council has paid to the well-researched and cohesive proposals of the Independent Remuneration Panel, put forward at a time when there is widespread belt tightening amongst tax payers, all three members of the panel have resigned with immediate effect."

Investigate decisions

The Lib Dem opposition said it had asked Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to investigate the way the council's decisions were made and whether they complied with government regulations.

Following the full council meeting, Peter Martin, the council's deputy leader, defended the increases.

He said some figures were the same, some were reduced and some had increased from the original recommendations.

He said pay and allowances for members had not changed in 12 years.

He said the rises reflected "considerable new responsibilities" taken on by council leaders and were in line with neighbouring authorities.

A SCC spokesman said: "The government has given county councils 42 new responsibilities since 2010 and these have increased the workload for the cabinet and other senior councillors.

"There has been no review of allowances for four years and while that was the right thing to do at the time it is now important that they are adjusted to reflect increases in roles and responsibilities."

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Given rank-and-file local government staff have gone through a pay freeze and been offered a 1% pay rise this year, then councillors need to lead by example too.

"There can be little excuse for a council refusing to freeze council tax on grounds it has no money, but then using taxpayers' cash to hike up the overall cost of councillors."

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