Hitchin candidate’s allowance donation pledge stirs up debate

Conservative Hitchin Highbury candidate Leon Emirali (centre) has pledged to donate all of his allow

Conservative Hitchin Highbury candidate Leon Emirali (centre) has pledged to donate all of his allowance, causing a stir among councillors Sam Collins (left), Paul Clark (second left), Ian Albert (second right) and Judi Billing. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

A pledge by a Conservative party candidate for Hitchin to donate his councillor’s allowance to local schemes has caused outrage among rival party candidates.

Leon Emirali is running as a candidate for Hitchin Highbury in May’s local elections, and has decided to donate 100 per cent of his councillor allowances.

“If I am elected to serve as a Hitchin Highbury councillor, I will donate 100 per cent of my councillor’s allowance to fund community projects,” he said.

“Whether supporting local homelessness charities, or helping disadvantaged young people; I will consult with residents and allocate these funds to the causes our community cares most about.”

Mr Emirali also wrote a letter to Lib Dem councillors Sam Collins and Paul Clark as well as Keith Hoskins who will be running against him for the Hitchin Highbury ward, asking them to join his pledge.

“It is my belief that funds which would otherwise be allocated to our pockets are better spent funding projects that do good in our community,” he wrote.

“That’s why I’m asking you to put party politics aside and join me in my pledge, so that we can play our part in helping Hitchin reach its full potential.”

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When asked for comment by this newspaper on Mr Emirali’s letter, Hitchin and South Liberal Democrats raised concerns regarding his appeal to councillors to join his pledge.

A spokesman said: “While on the face of it this seems to be an honourable thing to do, it would actually set a rather worrying precedent where only the rich could stand for election.

“Councillors allowances mean that people from all backgrounds can stand for election and if successful work for their communities.

“If the allowances were not in place, or if those elected were expected to give them away, it would mean that only the wealthy could consider being councillors, something which would result in very poor representation for the electorate.”

North Hertfordshire District Council Liberal Democrats group leader Mr Clark echoed his party’s statement.

“Allowances mean that residents from all walks can be councillors and be involved in how their community is managed and run, not restricting it to an elite few,” he said.

“The role takes up a considerable amount of time if it is done properly.

“People from all corners of the District have something to contribute and should be encouraged to do so and not be penalised by the cost involved.”

Fellow Lib Dem and Hitchin Highbury councillor Sam Collins believes that pay needs to be reduced, saying: “There is an issue with the allowances, I personally feel that they are too high and have openly said as much in the past.”

Mr Emirali’s pledge also caused debate between himself and Labour councillors Ian Albert and Judi Billing on Twitter, who also argued that the allowances mean more people can stand for local government.

In a statement to the Comet, Hitchin Bearton ward councillor and chair of the NHDC Hitchin Committee Mr Albert said: “Local councillors receive allowances so that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, can have the opportunity to stand to represent their community.

“Trying to make this a competition as to who can donate the most from their allowance, is just another way to exclude those on lower incomes.”

Mr Albert also said that Labour voted against the recent increase in allowances proposed by the Conservative leadership of North Herts District Council, adding: “They were unnecessary and at a time when most people haven’t had a pay rise in years, unfair.”

Fellow Labour councillor also said that: “I’m sure he has a great contribution to make in the future if he stays here, but in Hitchin we try to do that collaboratively and with goodwill for the good of all.”

In response to the criticism of his pledge, Mr Emirali called for councillors in Hitchin to support his pledge.

“My political opponents have criticised me for pledging to make this donation, but I still want to encourage them to join me in my pledge so we can work together to deliver for local residents in Hitchin,” he said.