Every financial year, Sunderland City Council is required to renew its members’ allowances scheme and to consider the recommendations of an independent panel.
The latest proposals from Sunderland’s ‘Independent Remuneration Panel’ (IRP) suggested a 2% increase for 2022/23, in line with assumptions in budget planning for staff pay awards.
This would have seen annual basic allowance, which is available to all city councillors, increase from £8,369 to £8,536.
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But at the Wednesday’s full council meeting, councillors from all parties voted overwhelmingly to reject the pay increase.
Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of the city council, said the Labour Group would not accept a rise in basic allowances while city residents were facing financial hardship.
“It was absolutely clear to the Labour Group that we could not be taking even a 2% rise when we were still putting council taxes up because of the massive underfunding of budgets by a Conservative government which just continues year on year with austerity politics,” Cllr Miller explained.
“The independent panel have done their job and last year proposed that we uplift to [about] £9,000 because that was the median level of a basic allowance in the North East and with local authorities of our size.
“Sunderland’s basic allowance, by comparison, is very low and we said no to it then because people were suffering even further with financial difficulties a year ago – and they’re still suffering with financial difficulties this year.
“That’s going to get worse because of a National Insurance rise unless the Tory party bottles it, having listened to Labour, and withdraws it before we get to April and they actually do something about VAT on fuel bills which would help families.
“They [should] look at the freeze on Universal Credit which is actually a real cut in income for families, at least 40% of whom are working.”
Despite a formal proposal which would have frozen payments at a level unchanged since 2012, some opposition councillors requested tougher measures.
Wearside's Liberal Democrats have previously called for cuts to special responsibility allowances (SRAs) claimed on top of basic allowances by senior councillors, including the council leader, cabinet members and committee chairs.
Lib Dem leader Niall Hodson also called for broadband and home telephone allowances to be scrapped, calling for a “mobiles only” policy providing a dedicated phone line and internet access.
Conservative opposition leader Antony Mullen confirmed his group would continue to push for cuts to SRAs and requested further details on a proposed “green” cabinet portfolio.
Cllr Miller replied a new cabinet position for the green agenda was “highly likely to happen” because of the council’s drive to become a carbon neutral local authority by 2030.
The council leader added councillors needed all the tools available to serve residents, insisting home broadband and home telephones were “still a necessary facet of being a councillor and a good community champion”.
The IRP considers views of all political groups on the council, as well as allowances schemes used by other North East councils.