Earlier in the week, the Yorkshire Evening Post put up an article called Leeds Councillors vote “NO” to freeze on allowances. I was interested to see that Cllr Robert Finnigan had proposed the Motion and that it was overwhelmingly defeated by 83 votes against, seven for (and presumably nine abstentions or non-attendees).
Our Councillors cost the City taxpayers over £2m last year, so democracy doesn’t come cheap. (Indeed, this figure went down like a lead balloon.) Leeds Councillors get a £14,000 basic allowance and those on the exec board get special allowances taking their payment up to somewhere between £30-£40k. (Cllr Finnigan receieved £32,420.84 for 2007/2008).
Now if you read the YEP article linked above, it all sounds very clear cut with both sides making their case. The reality, however, is somewhat different and there is much more to it than meets the eye.
To set the scene, Cllr Finnigan is somewhat in limbo at the moment, having resigned his job wih another local authority after being disciplined for Gross Misconduct, took them to a tribunal- and lost, with the employment judge saying he “abused his position”. This story originally revolved around harassment and bullying but this was not mentioned in the tribunal reporting.
Also hanging in the air are the accusations of electoral malpractice. This revolves around two main issues, the first that he gave his home address as in Morley which whilst not specifically being used as a qualifier, did appear on all of the ballot papers even though he doesn’t actually live there, it being another Councillors’ address & also the registered office of the Morley Borough Independents Party. The other issue is that he claimed his main work was in Leeds (as a Councillor) despite having a full time job elsewhere. The police investigated this, submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution Service and it is apparently awaiting a decision from them.
Knowing this background, let us look more closely at what happened in Full Council last week. This is what was on the Agenda for item 9:
White Paper Motion – Members’ Allowances
This Council agrees to freeze all Councillors allowances for the next two years.
However, when they reached this business, the motion was amended somewhat.
Under the provisions of Council Procedure Rule 14.10 leave of Council was given to alter the final paragraph of the amendment as notified by the addition of the words “to instruct officers to investigate whether” and it was moved by Councillor Gruen seconded by Councillor Taggart
Delete all after ‘this council’ and replace with
“recognises the excellent work of the Independent Remuneration Panel thanks them for their efforts and notes their recommendations. Council furthermore understands the need for pay restraint and with this in mind Council resolves to not increase basic allowances for Councillors beyond the settlements that are agreed with Council staff.
Finally council resolves to instruct officers to investigate whether any increases to allowances could only be paid to Councillors who can prove they live or work within the city’s boundaries.”
Both the amended motion and the original motion were lost, by the way.
This is from the draft minutes on the LSC Website. I look forward to reading the verbatim minutes (full transcription of what was said) in due course.