The following is our letter on councillors' allowances published in today's Weston Mercury:
I am writing on behalf of North Somerset UNISON, which represents council workers, and in response to your article on the increase in allowances for Assistant Executive members at North Somerset Council. Since 2010 the council has made £50 million of cuts to jobs and services, imposed a 3 year pay freeze on council staff, followed by last year's below inflation 1% pay increase (or pay cut as we like to call it), along with a recent refusal to bring 1000 council and school staff up to the living wage on the grounds of affordability. What makes the decision of the independent renumeration panel even more shocking is that the new posts of Assistant Executives are not prescribed by the council's own constitution. In addition it is my understanding that the proposed boundary changes and reduction in numbers of councillors by the time of next year's 2015 election was supposed to make savings to the budget for councillors' allowances. As a result it seems a rather odd state of affairs that 5 Assistant Executive members will receive increases to their allowances of £6400 each, and to add insult to injury those increases are backdated to June last year. The report of the independent renumeration panel states that the Assistant Executive role involves between 8 to 12 hours a week - as a result their new allowance equates to an hourly rate well above the living wage. As a trade union we are of course supportive of workers receiving fair pay, but councillors are volunteers, and their allowances are not wages for work undertaken. I doubt many other North Somerset residents undertaking voluntary work are given such generous allowances, and we also need to remember that 20% of North Somerset workers earn less than the living wage.
Readers of this newspaper may also want to bear in mind that North Somerset Council have another £50 million of cuts planned up to 2018, which include their recently announced Transformation Programme, which will involve more cuts to services, redundancies and privatisation of services, including the transfer of more jobs and services into their £10.6 million a year support services contract with Agilisys and extending that contract to a 15 year term. This is a contract which over the last 3 years has failed to make the savings promised - the cost of support services was supposed to reduce from £10.3 million to £8.8 million, rather than actually increase, as it has done. North Somerset residents should be very concerned by any misuse of council tax payers money - whether it be increasing councillors' allowances while cutting staff and freezing their pay, or cutting services while transferring other services to a private company in order to help that company make a profit. North Somerset residents may want to take this into account when they cast their votes at the election next year.