Councillors freeze expenses but agree 65p mileage rate

COUNCILLORS have voted in favour of paying themselves 65p a mile travel expenses, despite the UK average being nearly half that.

North Herts District Council (NHDC) approved the rate last Thursday. It also agreed to freeze its allowances, including the basic rate which all councillors can claim and the special responsibility allowances that portfolio holders are entitled to for 2012/13.

A proposition by Lib Dem councillors to limit all councillors to the 46p currently paid to those with the smallest cars was rejected. Most companies - and several other councils - usually agree a rate between 40 and 50p.

North Herts Lib Dem leader Steve Jarvis said: “Most employers only allow their staff to claim the 45p a mile which the tax rules say is reasonable, regardless of the size of their car, but apparently Conservative councillors in North Herts think that they should be treated differently.

“There is no reason why local people should contribute to the cost of buying and insuring the car, which councillors would need to pay for their private use. There is also no reason why local tax payers should have to pay more just because a councillor decides to have a larger car.

“It is particularly ironic that at the same meeting, councillors approved the fees to be paid to elections staff, including a payment for car mileage at just 23p a mile.”

The basic allowance was kept at �4,500 - the second lowest out of other councils in the county.

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Cllr Lynda Needham, leader of the council, said: “At the meeting of the council, councillors voted in favour of keeping their allowances at the same level for the year 2012/13 as in the previous year.

“Despite NHDC’s member allowances being below the mean average, it was felt that due to the current economic climate, an increase in allowances would not be appropriate.

“The council has, since allowance schemes were first introduced, applied to its councillors the National Joint Council for Local Government Services rates of remuneration for travel and subsistence. At its meeting on November 10, council agreed to continue with this practice as recommended by the independent remuneration panel.”

Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) said that an independent panel was currently reviewing the 2012/13 allowances, with a report due to be finalised in January.

Currently, the council’s basic rate of �7,124 is �2,600 more than neighbouring NHDC councillors get, and second highest in the county.

It is just marginally cheaper than Watford Borough Council’s allowance, although councillors did take a five per cent pay cut this year.

Cllr Sharon Taylor, leader of the council, said: “I think in urban areas, such as Watford and Stevenage, councillors are facing things slightly differently than elsewhere.

“It’s important that we recognise everyone is suffering which is why we took that five per cent cut. I think it’s important that councillors are representative of people in the community.

“[Being a councillor] has a very big impact on peoples’ working life, and I believe we need to recognise that. It’s not a massive amount, and people pay tax on that.

“Our phone numbers are made public, and people have 24-hours access to councillors.”

Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC), is expected to vote for a two per cent reduction in members’ allowances.

The basic allowance currently stands at �10,995 - twice that of most Hertfordshire councils - although, as a unitary authority, councillors undertake the equivalent of county council responsibilities as well.

The recommendations will be presented at a meeting next week.

Herts County Council (HCC) currently pays its councillors a basic rate of �9,588.