As a Portfolio Holder I will get an increase on my council allowances based on an independent panel’s calculations, not my own. They work very hard to assess evidence and come up with formulas to get this right, and by law we must ‘have regard’ for their findings. Labour rejected them out of hand year after year, meaning Redditch councillors fell well behind regional and national levels. Even on this topic Labour failed to grasp the need for moderate and sensible evolution and just kept kicking the can down the road – perhaps so they could score political points when someone else made the decision for them. That’s why I called them dinosaurs at the last full council meeting. Time and again they demonstrate all they want to do is keep Redditch stuck in the 1970s. They even talked warmly about how the Arrow Valley Visitor Centre was originally envisaged as a simple log cabin for the wardens like they wanted to go back to this more simple time.
Despite the increases, the Portfolio Holders in Redditch will still be amongst the lowest remunerated in the country. We don’t do this for the money, though, and we accept a degree of sacrifice is needed. However, being a Portfolio Holder, a Deputy Leader, or a Leader of a council is hard work – and it’s proper work. We are dealing with decisions and situations that will have long-lasting consequences for our Borough. Let me give you an example. Under the previous Labour administration the council failed to complete all the gas safety checks on its council houses in time. Read that again slowly: gas. safety. checks. Who is ultimately accountable for this extremely dangerous situation? The Portfolio Holder.
In my own Portfolio of Leisure & Cultural Services I am very busy in the role with projects like the partnership with Royal Enfield that will put Redditch on the map, bringing the AVCC back into council hands, the Morton Stanley Festival and of course the relationship with Rubicon Leisure. All of this takes time out of my day and out of my evenings, away from my family, and away from my earning work. If I add up all the hours I work on council business and divide by the allowances – even the increased ones – I am on a lot less than minimum wage. What’s more, I have lost business as a partially self-employed person as a result of being too busy on council work to go out there and win more business. This impacts on my family – very heavily. As a council we should be encouraging working age family people to get involved without bankrupting themselves, otherwise we just become a council full of retired people and people of means who can afford to lose the money. That’s not right.
I have always been very open and honest with you, my voters. That’s why I’m going to face you over the decision to increase the allowances for Councillors serving on Redditch Borough Council. I hope you have read some context above and the points below on this however and have tried to understand the reasons we did this before reacting. Labour have already started to spread misleading and fake news, so it’s necessary to set the record straight.
Here are some short points to make on this situation:
- Even with these increases Redditch councillors are amongst the lowest remunerated in the whole country.
- Before doing this we ensured the staff got a pay rise first to bring their wages into line with Bromsgrove where we share some services.
- It was a Labour government that introduced the allowances system in the first place to encourage more people to get involved with local councils, especially from poorer and deprived backgrounds who couldn’t afford to take a hit to their income by being a councillor.
- The total cost to the council will be just under £60,000. It was originally going to be nearer to £50,000 but we realised that the two Labour members of the Executive Committee were left out so we decided to include them with the other increases.
- This amount is relatively small when you consider the amount of uncollected rent due to the council because of empty council houses was around £320,000 per year under Labour. That was hundreds of empty council houses whilst local families were homeless. Over the six years they ran the council this adds up to nearly £2m lost.
- The amount is less than the £140,000 we have put into fighting homelessness in our budget – Labour voted against this.
- Labour have not taken a tough decision in Town Hall for years. Under their watch basic things like gas safety checks were not done.
- We share a lot of services with Bromsgrove yet our councillors still get lower allowances than their counterparts.
- The role of a Councillor is changing and we want to ensure that everyone in Redditch feels able to come forward and stand for election – no matter which party they support, though we’d like it to be us of course. Under Labour it was only really retired people and those who run their own business and can afford to lose the money who came forward – this has to change.
- The way money is given out to charities and voluntary groups has to change too – we have decided to give each area of Redditch between £10,000 and £15,000 – a total pot of £145,000. Labour wanted to lock this up in a ‘grants panel’ that meant money was not reaching the causes that needed it the most. From April onwards groups in the community will just need to contact their local Councillors to access funding.
- Labour are saying we have cut £20,000 from the above ‘grants panel’ (that wasn’t getting money down to the ground anyway). What they don’t tell you is they previously cut the Christmas lights budget which was also £20,000 – our changes mean we can now turn the lights on in December and ensure our town remains a warm and welcoming place.
I fully appreciate that some people will find this decision very difficult to understand, but thank you for giving me a moment to explain what we did to you.
I appreciate that I will never convince some of you that it’s a good idea to give Councillors more money for what they do, and I am sorry if this is how you feel even after reading of this very long post.