Southwark Council has been accused of hypocrisy after introducing a ‘golden goodbye’ for departing cabinet members – despite regularly bemoaning the effect government cuts are having on the borough’s strained services.
The council has rubber-stamped plans to give departing cabinet members between £2,641 and £12,791, depending on the current council allowance and length of service of the person in question.
While council leader Peter John called it a “small payment”, Lib Dem councillor Ben Johnson described the new policy as “rotten” and “toxic.”
He said: “The council has reduced the budget of every department in recent years. Street cleaning, youth services, social care – all have been cut. And yet they are proposing to increase payments for councillors one month after the swingeing cuts of their annual budget.
“I have sympathy with those who risk losing their full-time job and main source of income should they lose political office – as happened when the Lib Dems lost control of the council in 2010. But this is the path we have all chosen.”
Southwark Lib Dem Cllr David Hubber added that the current Labour administration saw themselves as “the L’Oréal councillors – saying they deserve big pay-offs ‘Because we’re worth it.’
“But this move sends out totally the wrong message and it is the wrong time. Southwark is facing unprecedented budget pressure and Labour councillors have just passed a budget that will make almost £2million cuts to youth services and street cleaning.
“Why should council taxpayers pay for resignations, Labour group sackings or residents voting them out? This is a shameful first for Southwark.”
Cabinet members will receive the equivalent of four weeks’ of their special allowance salary as a parting payment – plus another week for every year they have served in cabinet, up to a total of thirteen weeks. They will be entitled to the payment whether they resign, are deselected by Cllr John or simply do not retain their seat in an election.
Should a cabinet member resign in controversial circumstances, the Standards Committee will determine whether a payment should still be given.
Cabinet members who are earning a Band 3 special allowance of £33,789 (on top of a basic allowance of £10,657), including the council’s finance boss Cllr Fiona Colley, will receive a minimum basic payment of £2,641 when they leave their post – along with another £660 for every year they have spent as a full-time cabinet member.
Cabinet members on a Band 4 special allowance of £51,166, which is currently solely given to the Council Leader along with his £10,658 basic allowance, will receive an even more generous parting payment.
Payment for loss of office applies only to those cabinet members who are eligible for a full time allowance – those who job-share or work elsewhere for more than ten hours per week are not eligible. Backbench councillors are also ineligible.
Cllr Peter John explained the pay-offs were introduced to “attract and retain as wide a range of elected members to senior roles as possible.”
He said: “Southwark Council has been at the forefront of a new style of local politics, where cabinet members commit to running the council as a full-time job, and come from all walks and stages of life, bringing a healthy diversity to our front bench.
“In contrast to many parts of the country where the only people who are in a position to devote themselves to serving their borough full-time are the affluent or retired, Southwark wants a cabinet that truly reflects the diverse nature of our population.”
He said that many councillors felt they couldn’t risk giving up careers to take up cabinet positions – “particularly when that position could be lost at any time, leaving them unable to pay their rent, or for their arranged childcare.”
He concluded: “The introduction of this small payment, common in almost every other type of employment, will give aspiring politicians the confidence to join our cabinet, meaning we can always select the very best people to run our council and bring in new people to address new challenges without feeling genuinely worried about those who are stepping aside.”