North Yorkshire’s new unitary authority is set to pay its elected members 50 per cent extra next year – but the authority has been warned it faces becoming more unrepresentative of its population unless it starts paying even more.
Opposition parties have claimed elected members of the incoming North Yorkshire Council will face being paid less than the minimum wage and only those with significant income streams will be able to be councillors after a proposal to limit their basic annual allowances to £15,500 was revealed.
The allowance level put forward by an independent panel would mean nationally, among comparative councils, only councillors serving Leeds would be paid more than those in North Yorkshire.
A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive on Tuesday will hear the proposed allowance for the 90 members of its successor, North Yorkshire Council, from April represents a £5,184 increase on allowances paid last year to county councillors.
The creation of the unitary council will mean the end of allowances being paid to hundreds of district and borough councillors, so while some district councillors elected to the new authority may see a slight overall rise in pay, others will see their council work income drop.
However, the independent panel making the recommendation said with the abolition of district and borough councils and the number of councillors in the county reducing from 319 to 90 elected members of the new unitary authority would face a significant increase in workload.
If the proposals are accepted it will mean a net saving to the public purse in North Yorkshire of £707,633.
Under the proposals, special responsibility allowances would be at least four per cent higher than the current county council allowances, depending on the role.
The chair of the panel, John Thompson, said: “Councillors volunteer for their roles. They are not employees and are not paid at a commercial rate for their time. However, the allowances should not be set at a level which acts as a disincentive to conscientious performance of duties, or which does not reflect the considerable time commitment required for the role.
“When considering the appropriate level for the allowances, it is also important to take into account the need to continue to attract the required calibre of candidate from a diverse range of backgrounds, to stand and serve as a councillor.”
The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said it was important allowances were set at a level which would not prevent anyone from standing to represent their community, regardless of their age, personal circumstances and whether they are in work.
He said: “It will be a matter for each councillor to decide, at the full council meeting in February, whether to take all, some or none of the proposed allowances.”
Councillor Stuart Parsons, leader of the Independents group on the authority, said many elected members were already coming to the conclusion it was not worth taking a day off work to attend council meetings, which are all held during the day.
He said: “The job is becoming even more full-time than it was and that £15,500 is supposed to compensate you for the time and energy you are putting in.
“They are certainly not going out of their way to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to participate. What they are hoping for is more grey-haired, retired Tories who use this as a plus on their pensions.”
Leader of the Green Party group, Councillor Andy Brown, said attending council meetings in Northallerton from his Airedale division typically took about six hours each, and that was before reading reports, going on site visits and helping his residents.
He said: “We have been campaigning for proper pay for councillors since the days of the Chartists. It’s far better properly and have honest councillors who are focused on doing the job than echo what happens in parliament where people take second jobs to improve their standard of living.
“It should be something that it is possible to do mid-career and have an average standard of living.”