Lib Dems call for ‘cushy’ Mayor of Sunderland role to be axed

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As council leaders prepare to announce a new mayor, city Lib Dems have called for the “cushy role” to be scrapped.

At tonight’s meeting of Sunderland City Council, the ruling Labour group are expected to choose a successor to current Mayor, Coun Lynda Scanlan.

Related: Sunderland Labour councillors propose axing free meals at council meetings after drubbing in the polls - despite previously mocking the idea

Currently, the Mayor can claim an annual special responsibility allowance (SRA) of £17,205 plus expenses, while the Deputy Mayor can claim a SRA of £5,735.

This is in addition to £8,369 basic allowance available to all 75 councillors on the authority.

At the the 2019/20 budget meeting, Lib Dems made calls to replace the mayor with an unpaid chairperson and deputy- a proposal which was voted down.

Later tonight, the group have said they will make fresh calls for the role to be abolished.

Labour bosses have defended the ceremonial position and say they refuse to wipe out nearly 200 years of tradition “on the whim of the Liberal Democrats”.

But Lib Dem group leader on the council, Coun Niall Hodson, has said the move could help reduce budget pressures.

He said: “As regards social functions, it is ridiculous, in a time of austerity to pay someone to attend dinners and functions, along with their spouse or partner.

“The role is a cushy one that does not warrant the SRA paid to it. Instead of a mayor, we have numerous other offices which can be called upon to represent the council.

“The city currently has six unpaid aldermen. Or alternatively, rather than paying one councillor to act as mayor, we could divide civic functions amongst the wider body of council members.”

He added: “Sunderland City Council says it doesn’t have money to pay for basic services that people want and need, like emptying bins regularly, fixing potholes and pavements, and keeping our streets clean.

“One way they could save money would be to axe the positions of Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

“People want to see taxpayers’ money spent on getting basic city services right – not on seeing Labour councillors dressed up in Mayoral chains and robes being chauffeured around the city at our expense.”

In a report released by the Taxpayers Alliance last year, it emerged that Sunderland City Council had spent £42,000 in providing mayoral transport since 2015, one of the highest in the North East of England.

But council leader, Graeme Miller, has hit back at the Lib Dems, saying: “To hear Coun Hodson lecturing others on the impact of austerity is either incredibly naïve or incredibly disingenuous, given that he represents a party that was part of a Government which introduced this destructive policy.

“We have spent the best part of a decade working hard to ensure the people of Sunderland are impacted as little as possible by the austerity measures, created by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

“Sunderland has had a Mayor since Andrew White took up the chains of office in January 1836.

“While the role may be a ceremonial one, that does not make it any less important and it would be remiss to simply wipe out 183 years of tradition on the whim of the Liberal Democrats.

“However, we are well aware that tough decisions continue to be required as we move Sunderland City Council forward.

“If this is something that the opposition would like to debate in the Council Chamber, I would urge them to respect the correct protocols to have it added as an agenda item to committee.”

The annual council meeting will take place at Sunderland Civic Centre at 6pm.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service