Paid shadow cabinet system at Rother District Council ‘not a viable idea’

Bexhill Town Hall SUS-160623-112311001
Bexhill Town Hall SUS-160623-112311001

Conservative council leaders have raised concerns over a recommendation to introduce a paid shadow cabinet system in Rother.

The suggestion to introduce the system came as part of a series of recommendations around councillors’ pay and conditions put forward by an independent panel last year.

The panel’s recommendations, which also included the introduction of a two per cent annual increase to councillor allowances, were discussed by Rother District Council’s Conservative-led cabinet at a meeting on Monday (January 14).

Kicking off the discussion, cabinet member for business Martin Kenward (Con. – Bexhill Kewhurst) said: “I have always considered that the special responsibility allowance  is paid because when they make decisions under that special responsibility they can be held accountable for it.

“Therefore I don’t really consider it would be right to have a shadow cabinet paid 10 per cent of the allowance, when they would not be making decisions they would be held accountable for.”

Cllr Kenward’s views were echoed by Sally-Ann Hart (Con. – Eastern Rother), the council’s lead member for culture and tourism, who argued a shadow cabinet system ‘was not viable’ due to the council’s current political balance.

Cllr Hart said: “We’ve got 31 Conservative councillors and seven opposition councillors, so were we to bring in something like that then every single opposition councillor would be entitled to a special allowance, as they would all need to become a shadow cabinet.

“At the moment I don’t think it is viable, but perhaps in later years it might be if we have a bigger opposition and there are changes to Rother District Council’s make-up.”

Council leader Carl Maynard (Con. – Brede) meanwhile argued that Rother would be the only council in East Sussex to have a paid shadow cabinet, if the recommendation was introduced.

According to council papers, the recommendation to introduce a shadow cabinet technically falls outside of the scope of the panel’s responsibility.

Two of the panel’s other recommendations also fell out of scope, the council papers show. These were: for the council to consider the physical and mental wellbeing of members as part of its workings and to ensure councillors received training about the allowance system.

The panel also recommended the authority increases its councillors’ basic allowances by two per cent each year – seeing members’ base pay increase from £4,387.64 to £4,475 in 2019/20.

However this would be offset by plans to scrap the council’s £200 broadband allowance, money currently made available to pay for councillors’ internet bills.

Cabinet member for strategic planning Gillian Johnson said: “I think our allowances are actually set at a very reasonable level.

“But they do have to be set at that reasonable level to make certain you can allow any person of any income to be able to sit as a councillor without perhaps losing out.

“It would be awful if it was just retired people we could attract because they were the only ones not working during the day.”

If approved following a full council vote, the recommendations – including the pay rise – would not take effect until after the next council elections in May 2019.