AN Independent Remuneration Panel has recommended changes to the Councillors’ Allowances Scheme in Reading to bring it into line with other local authorities in Berkshire.
The Panel looked at current councillor allowances in Reading and compared them to payments made to councillors at neighbouring councils and other unitary local authorities. It found:
- Reading Borough Council’s Leader is paid £7,004 a year, compared to £28,954 in Bracknell. Reading’s Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) for the role of Leader is by far the lowest in Berkshire, with the next nearest lowest at £18,865.
- Lead Councillors in Reading are paid an annual SRA of £3,816 – again by far the lowest in Berkshire, with the highest SRA at £15,926 and the next lowest at £9,433.
- Reading has the lowest overall budget for Councillor allowances and the lowest cost per councillor in all of Berkshire (for 5 out of 6 which provided data)
- Members allowances in Reading have remained almost static since 2001. The last change made was a 10% cut in SRA in 2010.
In its detailed report, the Panel recognise that Reading’s councillor allowances scheme is now in urgent need of review and amendment. The report states: “Special Responsibility Allowances in Reading have fallen massively behind the other Berkshire councils due to years of being frozen and were now far too low for the level of responsibility attached to them.”
The report cites the example of the SRA paid for the role of Council Leader. This was agreed at £6,721 back in 2002/3 and has risen by just £283 over the last 17 years. Similarly, Deputy Leader and Lead Councillors’ allowances have risen by just £231 and £155 in the same 17 year period.
The report concludes: “These figures demonstrate that there is now a considerable discrepancy in the allowances scheme in relation to SRAs compared with the neighbouring Berkshire authorities. Therefore, this year provided a timely opportunity to review Reading’s scheme to reflect the level of commitment and time required by particularly those councillors performing leadership roles, which attract SRAs.”
The Panel’s full report and can be found at https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=136&MId=3096.
Remuneration panel member Linda Fort said:
“It was clear to all the members that while the basic councillor allowance in Reading was roughly in line with the average for councils in Berkshire, the rates for special responsibilities had fallen far, far behind the rest.
“We sent questionnaires out to councillors and interviewed a number of lead members before coming to our recommendations. What we found was that while almost no-one felt that the basic allowance was too low, many – particularly younger Councillors – were deterred or faced difficult career decisions when considering taking on the extra responsibility and huge time commitment of a lead Councillor role. We heard from Councillors who had turned down new jobs and promotion because they would have been unable to do their Council work.
“For older councillors well established in their careers, or retired, this is less of a problem. But for younger ones juggling work, family life, the mortgage, high rents and in some cases two jobs, a better rate of remuneration would help.
“Nobody thinks that Reading councillors are worth less than their counterparts in Windsor and Maidenhead or Bracknell, but for decades, we have valued them less.”
An interim Councillor Allowances scheme came into force in Reading April 2019, pending the completion of a more thorough review. As a result of its findings, the Independent Remuneration Panel has now made a number of recommendations. These will be considered at the next Full Council meeting on Tuesday June 25th, where a motion will be moved on a revised Councillors Allowance scheme for Reading.
The Panel’s recommendations, which will be debated on the night, include:
- Maintaining the basic allowance paid to all councillors at £8,220 a year, as it is broadly in line with those paid at other Berkshire LA’s.
- Raising the SRA for the role of Council Leader to £19,846 a year and to £12,000 for the Deputy Leader role
- Increasing the SRA for Lead Councillors to £10,799 a year
The Panel’s report additionally notes that a contributory factor to the low SRA level in Reading has been the fact that Councillors have to decide at full Council each year whether or not to award themselves an increase in allowances, which they were reluctant to do even where previous Remuneration Panels had recommended them. As a result, the Panel is also recommending that responsibility allowances should be subject to a cost of living increase in future years and would be increased in line with the Local Government Pay Settlement, as already happens in some other Berkshire authorities.
The Panel additionally concluded that if changes to the Reading scheme were agreed on June 25th, it was a matter for the Council to decide whether to introduce any increases from the beginning of the year or part way through.
Notes To Editor:
All councillors at every local authority are entitled to receive allowances as set out in locally agreed allowances scheme. Schemes should aim to compensate councillors fairly and equitably for their time and effort they need, or can be expected, to devote to their work as elected members of the council.
Whilst Reading’s Independent Remuneration Panel recognises that some element of a councillor’s time should be voluntary, this must be balanced against the need to ensure councillors do not suffer financial loss, that local people are encouraged to come forward as elected members, and that their service to the community is retained.
Regulations state that councils have a duty to consider the findings of an Independent Remuneration Panel before determining local schemes. There is a statutory obligation that none of the Panel members are also a member of the council or a member of a committee of subcommittee.
The Independent Remuneration Panel in Reading was made up of four members:
Francis Connolly – member with experience of the local voluntary sector and local business
Lady Audrey Durant – member with experience of the local voluntary sector
Linda Fort – member with experience of the local media
Mick Pollek – member with experience of the local trade union movement