Agenda item

Andy Croy asked the Executive Member for Finance and Housing the following question:



Why does the Council consult the public on cuts to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme but not on Councillor pay rises?





Why does the Council consult the public on cuts to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme but not on Councillor pay rises?



I am somewhat surprised that you have asked this question Andy as you seem to have got the wrong end of the stick.  It is my intention not to reduce those who qualify but to expand the scheme to disallow the Carers’ Allowance as part of the money taken into consideration when making judgements on whether or not anybody will receive it.  So there will be more carers that will actually qualify for this payment.


But let me answer your question.  It is that the Council is obliged to comply with the legislation associated with these different subjects. Let me explain them in more detail.


There is a legal requirement to carry out a public consultation when considering changes to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. A consultation is required regardless of whether a negative or positive change, and as you heard earlier I am planning a positive change, but in Wokingham’s case the key purpose of the consultation is to understand better how we can improve or how we extend the scheme. Indeed we think there is an opportunity, as I have said earlier, to disregard Carers’ Allowances when taking into consideration.  This will mean more carers will get the allowance.


The Local Authorities Members’ Allowances, which is the second part of your question, is a regulation agreed in 2003 and it sets out the framework for Members’ allowances to be awarded, in addition to detailing how the Independent Remuneration Panels, or IRP, could operate.


Wokingham Borough Council’s IRP is made up of members of the public who voluntarily give up their time to conduct a biennial review of the Members’ Allowances Scheme. Independent Remuneration Panel members are recruited via advertisements in the local newspaper, on the WBC website, and via WBC social media streams. Potential candidates are then interviewed by the Lead Specialist for Democratic and Electoral Services and the Assistant Director for Governance. Successful candidates are then appointed for a three to four year term. The IRP make recommendations to the Council from an independent viewpoint and the decision as to whether to accept those recommendations is left to the elected Members.


There is no requirement within the legislation for a full consultation on recommendations from the IRP to be undertaken. The regulations underpinning Members’ allowances and IRPs do however stipulate that upon receipt of a copy of a report made to it by the Independent Remuneration Panel, the local authority must as soon as reasonably practicable ensure that copies of that report are available for inspection by members of the public at the principal office of the authority and publish the recommendations and main features of the report in one or more newspapers circulating in the area. WBC adheres to these regulations, and welcomes any comments received upon publication of the report and the newspaper article. Any comments received would be passed on to the IRP ahead of the item going to the full Council meeting for debate and decision to be made by the Members.


Supplementary Question

You are right when you say that these processes are outlined by legislation but that is the minimum standard.  There is nothing in legislation which prevents the Borough Council from putting out a consultation on Councillor pay rises which would inform the work of the IRP.  I suspect that the reason we do not is that we will not necessarily get the answers which we want which brings me on to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.


The wording of the survey was very, very, poor and many people I have spoken to thought that the wording was designed in such a way as to encourage people to give answers that would result in less money going to the people who needed it the most. 


Why can’t we design a decent survey to get proper answers from people?


Supplementary Answer

I am looking for proper answers from people Andy and that is what I want to do.  The other issue, of course, with regards to every time we go to consultation there is an element of cost involved with that.  I mean we are following the legislation with all the other councils I know doing it that way.  There is nobody else who doesn’t do it that way and I cannot see any reason why we should change the way we do things just for it to cost the residents even more.