Stoke-on-Trent City councillors claim more than £713,000 in allowances
CITY councillors claimed more than £713,000 in allowances and expenses during the past year – amid an ongoing row over whether they should accept an increase.
New figures for 2011/12 show the cost of reimbursing elected members fell from the £885,500 paid a year earlier after a citywide boundary reform cut the number of councillors from 60 to 44.
But members controversially approved an increase in their allowances in March but agreed to defer it until a national pay freeze for council staff is lifted, which is expected to be next year.
The decision will increase the annual bill for members' allowances by at least £67,750, equivalent to a pay rise of roughly nine per cent.
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Accounts revealing total allowances claimed for May 2011 to May 2012, and travel expenses paid out up to April 2012, show:
Special responsibility allowances paid in addition to the basic rates for cabinet members, committee chairman and the deputy and Lord Mayor cost £207,477;
Basic allowances of £11,000 paid to all members cost a total of £484,602;
Members claimed a total of £21,154 in travel and subsistence expenses during the 2011/12 financial year.
An elected member's role in representing ward residents, shaping policy, scrutinising plans and taking responsibility for council decisions is technically an unpaid public service.
But councillors receive an allowance to reimburse them for time spent on council business and also claim travel expenses.
Council leader Mohammed Pervez, whose £44,752.23 remuneration was the highest for the year, is one of several members who also works full-time.
He said: "Our councillors put in an enormous amount of time and effort into their roles, there is no doubt about that.
"The allowances are recommended by an independent remuneration panel, but the decision of the full council was to not accept the rise in allowances while there is a pay freeze on staff."
Non-aligned councillor Paul Breeze, who represents Birches Head and Central Forest Park, was the only councillor to vote against the deferred pay increase – as he felt it should be immediate.
He said: "I work above 50 hours per week and I'm on call seven days a week including evenings.
"Whenever I step outside my house or go shopping in Tesco there is something people want to bring up.
"When you weigh up the hours and commitments, an increase to £12,000 is more than justified.
"I couldn't do it if I didn't get paid. To me it is a job, not a vocation or calling, and the people of Northwood and Birches Head are my employers."
Steven Pritchard, pictured, chairman of Portland and Cobridge Residents' Association, said: "It's really frustrating that allowances are increasing. It's a classic case in government where they say we're all in it together, but really they mean 'you are all in it together'."
Figures cover all claims made in the financial year, including those by former councillors Hazel Lyth and Denver Tolley.
Mr Tolley claimed £526 before handing over the Lord Mayoralty to Terry Follows, while Mrs Lyth claimed £122 for travel shortly before losing her seat.
A total of 23 of the councillors were newly elected or re-elected on May 5 last year, meaning a full year's travel claims are likely to be slightly higher than the amount shown.