Pay panel under fire from Wrexham councillors over proposed increase

Reporter:

Jonathan Grieve

Councillors offered a £200 pay rise blasted the panel which suggested it for being out of touch.

The draft Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales report has put forward proposals to give every councillor in Wrexham an additional £200 over the next financial year.

But members said in the current economic climate, with public sector pay freezes and many families struggling to make ends meet, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

The authority’s democratic services manager, Sioned Wyn Davies, told a committee meeting the council had no leeway in accepting the pay award decided on by the IRPW.

But if they so wish, individual members can write to the council’s head of finance, Mark Owen, and request not to receive the extra money.

Cllr Carrie Harper said: “I felt quite uncomfortable at the prospect of a £200 wage rise for councillors.

“As we all know, we are in a situation where we are cutting staff and services. NHS workers in Wales are the only NHS staff in the UK not getting a pay rise.

“There is not enough weighting on the harsh reality of the circumstances we are in. I know we can choose to refuse the pay rise and some choose to give the money to charity.

“I think we have got an obligation as community leaders to do that.”

Cllr Bryan Apsley agreed it would be wrong to accept the extra money in the current climate and Cllr Derek Wright said it was up to individual councillors and their conscience
as to what to do with it.

Cllr Andrew Atkinson said: “Personally it is not something I want to see but it is what has been recommended. I won’t take it myself but members will make their own decision.

“It’s not something the council has any control over – we need to say how we feel to the IRPW.

“As a committee, we can say that perhaps the timing is inappropriate given the situation around the country.”

Cllr Dana Davies said: “I am really disappointed with this report. I think the IRPW are out of step with what is happening in Wales as well as across the UK.

“My worry is that if individual councillors turn down the money and it goes back into a pot, we have no say where that money will go.”

Cllr Rob Walsh said he was disappointed the IRPW had recommended keeping the higher level of senior salaries, rather than the lower level. He added: “As a council there is not a lot we can do to force people not to take pay rises. It is a matter for individuals and it is on their consciences.

“If members of the public are concerned, I would advise them to contact their local councillor and have a discussion with them
about it.”

If the mooted rise goes ahead, the authority would be left to fork out an extra £10,400 for councillors’ pay
next year.

Cllr Atkinson agreed. “The only thing that matters is we are accountable to the public when they come knocking on our door to ask us about it,” he said.

Cllr Harper proposed a recommendation that the committee expressed its disappointment to the IRPW in the context of budget cuts and the current economic climate.

She added all members should give serious consideration to forgoing pay rises either by declining them or by donating the money to charity.

Cllr Dana Davies asked the committee to consider asking the IRPW for feedback as to why the higher level of salary had been retained rather than the lower level.

“I can’t fathom how they came to that conclusion,” she said.

The recommendations passed with six members in favour, no votes against and four abstentions.

The authority will now submit its response to the consultation on the draft report ahead of the November 29 deadline. A final IRPW report will be published in April and a decision on pay will go before full council next year.

The recommendation to increase pay comes despite the authority facing cuts of £13 million from its budget from 2018-20, with a consultation on proposed savings due to run until the end of the month.

If the proposed increases are adopted, council leader Cllr Mark Pritchard would net £48,300, while deputy leader Cllr Hugh Jones would be paid £33,800.

Each executive board member would take home £29,300 while committee chairmen would receive £22,300, as would the leader of the opposition, Cllr Dana Davies.

Basic salary for members without additional responsibilities would rise to £13,600.

The IRPW points out in its report that when setting the basic salary in 2009 it was aligned to the medium gross earnings of all full time employees living in Wales and was payable at three-fifths of that rate.

A report which went before the committee stated: “If the alignment had continued, the basic salary would now be closer to £15,000 per annum but increases have not kept pace due to the pressures on public expenditure.

“The increase proposed equates to 1.49 per cent and would take effect from April 2018.

“The IRPW considers that the increase will help to limit further erosion of relative levels of remuneration in the basic salary paid to elected members.

“The IRPW is not proposing any increases in senior salaries other than the increase in the basic salary applicable to all elected members.

“In 2016 the IRPW introduced some discretion for councils in the payment of senior salaries for members of the executive and committee chairs.

“As a result of the strong views expressed during recent visits to councils that the IRPW should be prescriptive in respect of these salaries, the IRPW has now removed this discretion.”

Email:

jonathan.grieve@nwn.co.uk

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