Councillors' pay: Criticism of new £12,000 bill for Labour and Tory chief whips

editorial image

More than £12,000 of public money a year is set to be handed to Wakefield Council's Labour and Conservative groups to pay their chief whips.

An independent renumeration panel has recommended that whips, who enforce political discipline within their party and ensure councillors vote as their leader intends, receive an allowance for their work for the first time.

Labour indicated they would support the proposal, saying the policy is now commonplace across councils, but the idea has been criticised by the Conservative opposition and the Liberal Democrats' newly-elected sole member.

In its reasoning behind the plan, which will go before the council's annual general meeting on Thursday, the panel said that the chief whip's role had "evolved" into a job that ensured the "smooth transition of council business".

Its report said: "The role is increasingly seen as being vital to the efficient functioning of the council, with the whip acting very much as the bridge between Cabinet and the backbench, often acting as their voice whilst also being a conduit in any cross party deliberations."

As the majority party, Labour would be entitled to £9,453.87 to pay their whip, while the Conservatives would receive £3,176.46 as an opposition party with 11 councillors.

But Coun Tom Gordon, the Liberal Democrat member for Knottingley, said the move could not be justified at a time of cutbacks within the local authority.

He was also critical of Labour's creation of a new Cabinet post overseeing skills and employment in the district, and the prospect of all members' basic allowance rising in line with salary increases for council staff.

Councillors' basic pay, which was £983.20 last year, has traditionally gone up at the same rate as staff wages to account for year-on-year inflation.

But Coun Gordon said: "It goes without saying residents will find it completely outrageous that the council wants to spend tens of thousands of pounds on newly created roles and inflate our own wages, all whilst having cut local services and complaining about austerity and the harsh cuts to local government.

"The council’s realisation that it needs to give some attention to jobs and skills is commendable.

"However, inflating the Cabinet after Labour lost seats in the local elections and after Coun Peter Box faced a leadership challenge last year is an odd time to do this.

"Local taxpayers' money would be better spent in our communities actually providing assistance skills and employment to residents, rather than perpetuating the Labour Party culture of jobs for the boys."

Tory group leader Nadeem Ahmed said he was against paying chief whips and the basic allowance rise, but said it was up to individual councillors whether or not they would they would vote for and take an increase.

He said: "I think we should be looking to cut councillor expenses generally, rather than putting them up.

"The role of the chief whip can really be done by the deputy leader, you don’t need to create a new position for it.

"I’ve accepted some increases in the past, and others I haven’t.

"Ultimately I think it's up to individuals whether or not they accept it, but I won’t stipulate a party position on it."

Labour group leader Peter Box said: "Allowances paid to councillors, in recognition of expenses incurred in carrying out their duties, are determined by an independent and impartial panel of individuals.

"The recommendation made by the panel to introduce an allowance for the group business manager (chief whip), who plays a vital role in the efficient functioning of the council, is based on the level of allowances paid to councillors performing similar roles across other local authorities."

In response to criticism of the new Cabinet post for skills and employment, Coun Box added: "The world is changing rapidly as new technology is adopted and there are equally rapid changes in the skills that employers require.

"Ensuring that people of all ages get the training needed to develop the skills to succeed and the opportunity to work, and that businesses are supported in maximising the opportunities of technology, must be key priority for this council.

"The new portfolio will focus on ensuring our future economy has the right skills and employment opportunities to drive the best possible outcomes for residents and businesses."

Local Democracy Reporting Service