Reduction in allowance for council’s opposition leaders criticised

Opposition leaders at West Sussex County Council have complained about plans to reduce the amount of allowance they receive.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:17 pm
The council chamber at County Hall, Chichester ENGSUS00120130416123201

A report from the Independent Remuneration Panel has recommended that the £12,202 basic allowance received by all councillors be frozen in 2021/22 but the extra given to the leaders of the opposition groups be slashed.

At a meeting of the governance committee, Liberal Democrat leader Dr James Walsh said the cut in allowance did not do justice to the workload faced by group leaders.

This year, as leader of a group with eight members, he received £10,640. From May that will fall to £7,500.

He said: “The suggestion that the allowances should be cut quite drastically just seems to me to fail to understand the broad role of the leader of the opposition.”

Dr Walsh will be stepping down as Lib Dem leader in the new year, so the changes will not affect him, but he stressed to the committee the importance of the opposition.

He said: “The role of the opposition in the British constitutional set-up is extremely important to the smooth working and the democratic accountability of a council.

“To pretend otherwise and to minimise and to downplay that role is to fundamentally misunderstand that position.”

The recommendation from the panel calls for opposition leaders to receive £5,000 if their group has at least three members, rising incrementally to £14,500 for 34 members.

Dr Walsh and Labour leader Michael Jones argued that the leaders’ allowance should be in line with that of a committee chairman – £9.552.

Mr Jones said he was ‘disappointed’ that their argument had not been listened to by the panel – though chairman Dr Neil Beer pointed out that they did listen, they just didn’t agree.

The panel also recommended a cut to the allowances received by the chairman of the council, from £21,663 to £20,162, and the vice-chairman, from £8,616 to £8,450.

So what allowance will councillors receive from May if the recommendations are agreed by the full council?

Leader Paul Marshall will receive £33,849 on top of his £12,202 basic allowance, deputy leader Deborah Urquhart will receive £24,371, cabinet members will receive £21,663, and committee chairmen £9,552.

All these figures are frozen from 2020/21.