Hounslow Leader and Cabinet members planning hefty allowance increases for themselves

Images above: LB Hounslow Leader, Cllr Steve Curran; Deputy Leader, Cllr Lily Bath; Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services, Shantanu Rajawat

The Leader of Hounslow Council and members of the Cabinet look set to award themselves hefty increases in the next financial year, despite proposing to put up Council Tax by 5% to make up for the shortfall in budget caused by the pandemic.

Councillor Shantanu Rajawat, Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services, is recommending huge increases in their Special Responsibility Allowances, the Chiswick Calendar has learned. All councillors are paid a basic allowance and those who take on extra responsibility are awarded Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) on top of the basic amount. Those who receive SRA include the Leader, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Members.

Steve Curran, as Leader, currently gets a basic allowance of £11,045 plus a Special Responsibility Allowance of £27,200. LB Houslow give his current remuneration as £42,332. Deputy Leader Lily Bath receives £11,045 plus a SRA of £16,000. LB Hounslow give her allowances as £29,586. Cabinet Members such as Hanif Khan (Cabinet Member for Transport) and Cllr Rajawat himself get £11,045 + £12,800. Their allowances are listed as £25,945.

The proposals are for the Leader’s SRA to be increased to £40,000, an increase of 47.1%, which added to the basic allowance totals £51,045. The Deputy Leader’s SRA would be increased to £25,000, an increase of 56.3%, allowances totalling £36,045 and a Cabinet Member’s SRA would be increased to £20,000, an increase of 56.3%, allowances totalling £31, 045.

Images above: Cllr John Todd; Mayor Cllr Tony Louki; Cllr Gerald Mc Gregor

Raises “wholly inappropriate” at this time

Chiswick Councillor John Todd, who says he was invited only to the final meeting of the cross-party committee which put forward these proposals, told The Chiswick Calendar he thought the raises were “wholly inappropriate at a time when they’re asking for a huge GLA precept and we’re told large numbers can’t afford to pay the Council Tax. It sends a bizarre message”.

The proposals have divided Labour members as well. At a meeting of the Labour group on 25 January a substantial minority voted against the proposals. The Chiswick Calendar understands that one member put forward the motion that the increases be shelved and the money instead be given to the Brentford Food Bank. This was ruled out by the Chair as a ‘wrecking amendment’.

The proposals have not yet come before a meeting of the whole council and it’s not clear whether the Cabinet Member for Finance intends to include them as part of the Budget presented to the Borough Council meeting on 2 March or whether he intends to present them at a Council meeting later in March.

It’s not just the 10 members of the Cabinet who would receive increases; there are 20 other roles – the Mayor, the Chief Whip and the Chairs of various committees who also receive Special Responsibility Allowances. Their proposed increases range from 10% – 56.3% – while the Chief Whip would be getting an increase of 284.2%, from £2,603 to £10,000 in his SRA.

By far the biggest increase would be in SRA paid to the Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Gerald McGregor. He is currently paid £11,045 plus £894. His remuneration is given as £12,416. His SRA would go up to £11,000, an increase of 407.4%, allowances totalling £22.045. He has told The Chiswick Calendar that he would donate the increase to charity.

Cllr Ron Mushiso, who is Deputy Leader of the Opposition, at the moment receives no extra payment for that role, but would receive £5,500, giving him allowances of £16,545.

Councillor Rajawat’s report also proposes that the increases be backdated a year, to take effect from 1 April 2020. The Council is also looking at introducing new deputy Cabinet roles, to give a wider group of councillors the opportunity to gain experience on important matters, and paying them Special Responsibility Allowances as well. Cabinet Members are appointed by the leadership, not elected by the party.

Images above: Cabinet Member for Communities and Climate Emergency, Cllr Katherine Dunne; Cabinet Member for Education, Cllr Tom Bruce; Cabinet Member for Transport. Cllr Hanif Khan; 

Allowances ‘unrealistic’ and not updated since 2010

Councillors’ allowances are paid on top of whatever earnings councillors receive from employment, as the role of councillor is not supposed to be full time. The Labour group have historically decided against paying themselves more and Special Responsibility Allowances have not been increased since 2010. Those who have argued for the increases say they are now a long way out of step with other parts of London. An independent report carried out in 2018 found that the workload and responsibilities of councillors was increasing and that their role had become more complex.

‘Councillors are faced with unenviable choices. Demand for local authority services continues to grow. In particular, there is rapid growth in the number of old people with a corresponding increase in demand for social care. London itself faces acute housing problems. Councillors have an increased responsibility for health. Thus the strain on and competition for resources increase the demands made on elected members. The responsibilities and accountabilities are made clear after a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire’.

The challenges posed by the pandemic have added considerably to this.

Given the extent of the responsibilities of leaders of London boroughs, the Panel’s first report in 2001 recommended that their remuneration should equate to that of a Member of Parliament (basic annual salary £81,932). At the time of that first report, MPs were earning £67,060; their pay has gone up considerably, but the Panel still maintained that the allowwances of London’s council leaders should be pegged to those of MPs, and if anything:

‘Leaders of London boroughs warranted a higher remuneration than an MP, because they had greater financial responsibility and legal burdens’.

For Cabinet Members they suggested remuneration of £47,962 to £54,505 and for the Chair of major regulatory committee e.g. planning, they suggested £27,252 to £40,842. (This includes the £11, 045 basic allowance).

The independent members of the Panel were a former chief executive of Westminster City Council, Sir Rodney Brooke CBE, the chief executive of the Audit Commission and chief executive of the London Borough of Camden, Steve Bundred and Anne Watts CBE, who has had an extensive career in and governance, spanning the private, voluntary and public sectors, with organisations including the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and the Appointments Commission.

Councillor Shantanu Rajawat’s report echoes their findings, saying:

‘The workload and responsibilities of Councillors continue to increase. There is evidence that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit Councillors of quality, a major disincentive being the time commitment which is required. Whilst allowances should not be so high that they are an incentive to become a Councillor, it is also It is important that allowances are not set at a level which makes them a disincentive for people to take on the role. Service as a Councillor should not be confined to those of independent means’.

Images above: Cabinet Member for Highways, Recycling and Trading Companies, Cllr Guy Lambert; Cabinet Member for Leisure Services, Cllr Samia Chaudhary; Cabinet Member for Customer Services and Corporate Performance, Cllr Pritam Grewal

More people in Hounslow struggle to pay Council Tax as a result of the pandemic

LB Hounslow has recently published its budget proposals for 2021 – 2022 and is proposing a 5% increase in the council’s element of the tax, equivalent to £63.62 per year for a Band D property.

Council Leader, Cllr Steve Curran said there was a shortfall between the money the pandemic has cost the council and the grants being paid to local authorities by central Government, coming on top of a decade of cuts.

Already they have seen increased pressure on provision for people who are homeless or on the brink of becoming homeless through a reduction in their income during the pandemic. The crunch will come when the Government’s support in terms of furlough payments, a freeze on evictions and the provision of business grants, runs out.

“Those are providing a sticking plaster but we are expecting there will be a surge in people being evicted once the freeze on evictions stops, a surge of unemployment when furlough ends and a surge in businesses going bust once the grants come to an end”.

In October 2020 the council reported that 40% of the borough’s workforce was either unemployed or on furlough. Hounslow is projected to be one of the hardest hit London boroughs economically over the next few years, due to the impact of COVID-19 and lockdown, because of its previous reliance on Heathrow as a major provider of jobs.

Images above: LB Hounslow headquarters at Hounslow House; Cabinet member for Adults, Social Care and Health, Cllr Candice Atterton; Former Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Theo Dennison

Plans to make Council Tax support available to fewer people

When asked about the ability of poorer people in the borough to pay Council Tax, Steve Curran referred to the Council Tax Support Scheme. Hounslow Council tried recently to reduce the number of people to whom Council Tax support would be available.

A unanimous decision by the Cabinet in December to change the support arrangement was ‘called in’, ie. challenged by Cllr Theo Dennison, a former Cabinet Member for Finance.

As a result, the proposals were not able to be introduced for this year, but at a meeting of the Scrutiny Committee on 2 February Councillor Rajawat admitted that the proposals “to reduce the bureaucratic burden on families” would in fact mean that “a small number of residents will pay more”.

In fact, the proposed changes would have raised £6.8 million and thousands of the borough’s poorer households would have had to pay more.

Budget meeting – question lead councillors before the budget for 2021/22 is passed

The proposed budget for 2021/22 will be put to the Borough Council on 2 March. Before that there is an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions about it on Thursday 25 February at 6.00pm, when Leader of the Council, Cllr Steve Curran will be joined by Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Lily Bath, Lead Member for Finance and Corporate Services, Cllr Shantanu Rajawat, and Lead Member for Adults, Social Care & Health, Candice Atterton, to take part in a Budget Question Time.

The full budget proposal is available to read here.

Click here to find the link to join the meeting.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: LB Hounslow proposing almost 5% Council Tax increase

See also: 40% of Hounslow workforce now unemployed or on furlough

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