Row Breaks Out Over Increase in Councillors' Allowances

Rise less than recommended but Tories point to surge in number of SRAs

Cllr Rowan Ree (left) speaking at the recent Hammersmith & Fulham Council meeting
Cllr Rowan Ree (left) speaking at the recent Hammersmith & Fulham Council meeting

May 27, 2024

Councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham have had their allowances raised by £1,775 but despite criticism from the opposition, the council says it’s over £4,000 less than was recommended. The change was made during Wednesday’s (22 May) Annual Full Council meeting.

Tory Cllr Alex Karmel questioned the sums being spent on members’ allowances as Cllr Rowan Ree, Cabinet Member for Finance and Reform, announced the changes.

Cllr Karmel also urged the Labour administration to heed previous independent reports recommending limiting the number of Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) – money given to councillors with extra responsibilities beyond representing their constituents – as the number has almost doubled at the council in the last decade.

Cllr Ree told the chamber that, had the previous Tory administration’s last proposed members’ allowances scheme kept up with inflation, it would today be costing the council £1.245m. The scheme agreed during Wednesday’s session, which applies from 1 April, will cost £1.2m, 0.7 per cent of the council’s total employee costs.

After taking control of the local authority from the Conservatives in 2014, Labour froze members’ allowances up to 2022. In a report prepared ahead of the Annual Full Council meeting, officers wrote that ‘significant inflationary pressures over the last two years’ have ‘further eroded the real value of allowances, which are now the fifth lowest in London’.

The basic allowance for 2024/25, which is received by all members, was proposed to rise from £9,744.60 to £11,520. This is 72 per cent of that recommended by an Independent Panel of London Councils, which suggested £15,960. SRAs, which are paid to members who hold positions such as committee chairs and the leader, also rose, though again below that recommended by the panel.

Cllr Karmel told members that having run through the numbers, this year’s spend on SRAs received by administration members, totalling £495,000, is significantly more than the roughly £287,000 in 2013, the last full year the Conservatives were in power.

He continued to question the number of SRAs allocated for Labour councillors. For 2024/25, from a total of 37 SRAs listed, 34 have gone to Labour councillors, with three for the opposition. This is an increase of one on 2023/24, and three more than 2022/23. In 2013/14, he said the Conservatives had 18 SRAs allocated to administration members, with three for the then-Labour opposition.

Cllr Karmel said the Independent Panel had ‘given up’ making recommendations due to the suggestions being ‘ignored’. “I urge the administration to look back at the reports of the Independent Panel and to heed their words on the numbers of SRAs being handed out to administration members,” he said.

Cllr Ree responded by stating he had to ‘start by correcting the opposition’, whose last proposed members’ allowance scheme was put forward in February 2014, before the election later that year.

He said had those proposals been implemented, and kept pace with inflation, basic allowances would be 18 per cent higher than what is in the 2024/25 report, cabinet members’ allowances would be 30 per cent higher, and those for the leader and leader of the opposition 33 per cent higher.

After referencing the need to increase allowances in-line with the cost of living to ensure candidates apply for the roles, Cllr Ree ended his response saying: “If the opposition really want to help keep the cost of council allowances down in the future, I’d suggest they start supporting policies that create a more stable economy, that control inflation, that tackle the cost of living, and I would suggest that to do so, they vote Labour on the 4th of July.” The 2024/25 scheme was ultimately approved.

The Labour administration has justified the increase over time in the number of SRAs at Hammersmith and Fulham by saying they increase scrutiny of the administration, feeding into decision making through the Policy and Accountability Committees and the Policy Oversight Board.

The Full Council meeting also saw the re-election of the Labour Mayor Cllr Patricia Quigley for 2024/25.

Ben Lynch - Local Democracy Reporter