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County Councillors Freeze Tax But Vote Themselves A Pay Rise

February 21st 2014

The County Council debated next year's budget at a meeting of the full council on Friday, 21st February. Councillor Martin Hill presented the proposed budget with more than a few digs at the failures of the Labour government, which left office in 2010. He spoke about "re-wiring" local government, and announced plans to freeze council tax for a record fourth year in a row.

The county is looking at a 14% reduction in government funding from April 2015, Councillor Hill admitted. He quoted SPARSE figures which suggest people from our area get 385 of government funding per head, compared with 487 per person for urban areas.

"We're moving towards becoming a commissioning council," Councillor Hill said, referring to the council's strategy of outsourcing certain services.

However, he described this policy as a two-way street, saying "elements of property, finance and safety are coming back in-house."

Perhaps that's an acknowledgement that these things don't always prove good value for money, or even that value is very difficult to measure once the council cedes control to private companies. I have been very critical of their handling of the library support services budget. To the best of my knowledge, these services are outsourced.

Councillor Hill announced that there was 7.9 million in reserves to meet unforeseen events. Another 4.4 million would be saved in landfill taxes, because the Energy From Waste plant will soon be disposing of all the county's non-recyclable waste. However, he was less optimistic about the future of government funding for councils by 2020. "We anticipate our budget will be 40% less than in 2010," he said.

That's if the Conservatives are still in power, pushing their flawed austerity agenda, in 2020.

This budget protects certain areas of spending, including safeguarding children, fire and rescue, and flood alleviation. Councillor Hill made no mention of protecting libraries, however. In the debate that followed, several councillors mentioned libraries. "The importance of libraries is fundamental to a well-trained workforce and people's quality of life," opposition leader Councillor John Hough said.

The Labour Budget

Councillor Hough presented an alternative budget that would raise the level of council tax by 50p a week for a Band D ratepayer. This would allow the council to preserve services such as libraries, and allow them to pay the living wage to council staff. There would also be 1m for public transport under these proposals.

Councillor Rob Parker seconded the Labour budget, saying: "Our budget offers some hope rather than more misery and more of the same."

Unfortunately there wasn't much hope of Labour's budget getting through in a chamber dominated by true-blue orthodoxy. I didn't take a count of how many times I heard "hard-working families", or references to difficult times and Labour's profligate spending, but it would have made a good drinking game if I'd had more than water to hand. In the end the Labour budget was voted down by 62 votes to 11, with no abstentions.

The Lincs Independents amendment

Lincolnshire Independents offered an amendment which would mean a 1.9% increase in the level of council tax, with the aim of securing more money for services. Lincolnshire Independent Councillor Mariane Overton said: "I do not accept that there has been no impact on frontline services."

This was defeated by 48 votes to 21, with four abstentions.

The pay review

So, how about a 23% pay rise? Sound nice? This was on the table for local councillors, as the result of a review carried out by an independent board.

Councillor Hough rejected the proposed increase. "Hardly any member of the public in Lincolnshire will understand," he said. He estimated that it would cost the council 1/4 million to implement.

Conservative Councillor Jackie Brockway spoke in favour of the increase. She said that rejecting the increase would mean "denying people on low wages the chance to take part in democracy."

Fifty councillors voted to increase their own pay, against twenty who voted against it. There were no abstentions.

It's not that the pay increase is scandalously high. It's not, if you consider that being a county councillor amounts to a part-time job with lots of travelling, particularly for councillors who don't live in Lincoln. The basic councillor allowance will go up 23% to 10,100. Executive councillors, meanwhile, will get a raise of 47%, so they get 18,000 on top of their basic allowance. It's comfortable money, rather than bathing-in-banknotes wealth.

But it's scandalous when you consider that over 100 library staff are due to lose their jobs as a result of cutbacks. Also, we don't know who else will be jobless as a result of further frontline cuts which will be inevitable in the coming year, thanks to the council tax freeze.

The council will either have to cut wages, or they will be obliged to reduce staff numbers. Fifty councillors have opted to look out for themselves at a time when everyone else is concerned about jobs and cuts in services. It's a kick in the teeth.

"We are a wealthy country," according to David Cameron. It's funny how that seems to be true for the right kind of person, for whom money can always be found from somewhere.


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