14 October 2015
The Essex County Council Full Council meeting on Tuesday 13th October agreed to end the so called “free meals entitlement”. Councillors can still obtain food and drink at County Hall but, like the staff there, they will need to pay for them.
Green County Councillors spoke in favour of scrapping the free meals and welcomed the decision. The Greens have campaigned to end free meals since 2013 (when they were first elected to County Hall), and also previously succeeded in having meal costs published for each councillor.
Greens have never taken free meals, unlike councillors from all the other parties at County Hall.
The meals issue was part of the report from the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) that has reviewed all councillor allowances and expenses.
A key part of the Independent Panel report was that leading councillors at Essex get very high allowances compared to other authorities - and the gap between "backbench" councillors and the administration councillors was outside the range of other comparable authorities.
The Tory administration proposals at the meeting on 13th October threw this evidenced finding out of the window and reinserted the disparity the Panel had recommended be reduced.
The Tories voted through a lower basic allowance than the Panel had recommended but then RAISED the special responsibility allowances (SRAs), most of which go to Tories.
All councillors will get the new basic allowance of £12,000 per annum. But compared to the Panel recommendations the Tories have now voted through the following SRAs, which are additional to basic allowance (first figure below is Tory uprating compared to IRP report):
Leader +£4000 (to £54,000)
Deputy Leader +£4500 (to £42,000)
Cabinet Members +£2,700 (to £36,000)
Cabinet Deputies +£2,000 (to £12,000)
Some of these senior councillors do currently take a voluntary reduction.
Cllr. James Abbott, Green Group Leader said
“We strongly welcome the scrapping of free meals. As with opening up all main meetings to public participation, it is reform that Greens have campaigned for.
However the lengthy debate about councillor allowances was completely unnecessary. The whole point of having an INDEPENDENT panel is that it was supposed to take these matters out of the hands of councillors.
By overriding the recommendations, and increasing senior councillor payments compared to the IRP report, the Tories have undermined the whole process.”