Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Members allowances

So the extended and expensive investigation into member expenses is now drawing to an end with a report from the Independent Remuneration Panel going to Full Council on Thursday. A particular target for some opposition members has been the claims for reimbursement of in-borough travel expenses. Claims for the 51 councillors amounted to about £7000 last year and the investigation and review has cost far more in officer time! It is now recommended that every member should receive £100 per year to reimburse in-borough travel expenses whether or not they incur them which it is argued will save officer time processing the claims - although these claims will still need to be submitted for out of borough expenses! I feel able to comment on this as I have never claimed travel expenses whether in or out of borough and do not intend to start now. I am not sure how a scheme involving a flat rate payment is just or equitable. If in-borough expenses are going to be paid then surely payments should reflect the expenses actually incurred rather than a system which could cost £5,100 (i.e 51 councillors @ £100)and where every councillor is likely to be either over reimbursed or under reimbursed. In addition by paying this flat rate it will be taxable so further reducing the effect but benefiting the taxman. I would have thought that we should either decide not to pay these expenses, or if we are, then we should acknowledge that different councillors undertake vastly different workloads and reimburse what they have actually incurred. I have said that I would support the recommendations of the Independent Panel which I will do, but I do struggle to follow the logic of their recommendations.

Budget cuts

Cuts to funds previously allocated to the Council by the Government continue to hit us. The previous subsidy to deliver free swimming for the under 16s and over 60s has gone with free swimming for these groups disappearing from 1st August. A further sum of about £2.6M covering a range of revenue and capital projects has also been called back. Whilst the Government has protected the Council's basic formula grant, which is used to pay for the majority of our services, it is withdrawing other funds which were allocated to specific areas. These in year cuts are really difficult to deal with as they need urgent steps to stop spending money we know longer have. Whilst the cuts which we face for the next financial year will be far worse at least we will have greater control over which services should be prioritised and we will also have the opportunity to consult with residents and plan in advance.