Changes to councillor pay have infuriated Redbridge Conservatives, who accused the Labour group of “lining their own pockets”.

The cost to the Redbridge taxpayer is almost unchanged, with councillor pay costing an extra £750 in a normal year, but overall Conservative pay was cut while overall Labour pay increased.

Annual allowances for the Conservative group will drop by £18,050, while the Labour group will receive an extra £18,800 overall after changes approved at full council on January 21.

Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal can also now appoint up to two “special project leads” a year if needed, paid a maximum of £2,850 each, which Conservatives argued would only be Labour members.

The new policy also provides explicit rights to time off for new parents, including those who adopt, something celebrated by both parties.

Council leader accused of trying to buy loyalty

Conservative leader Cllr Linda Huggett (Monkhams) accused Redbridge Labour councillors of “lining their own pockets” and Cllr Athwal of trying to buy the loyalty of his own party.

She said: “Cllr Athwal has shown no respect for our residents and families who are struggling.

“He’s always pleading financial poverty, saying he has no choice but to make cuts but all this will add up eventually to a council tax rise.”

Cllr Howard Berlin (Fairlop) said he was “happy to lose” his extra allowance of £6,650 for acting as Conservative deputy leader “in this current financial climate”.

However, he opposed the addition of a new cabinet member role, which means an additional £16,000 paid to a Labour member.

He said: “I do not see why cabinet members should receive £16,000 in this Covid-19 crisis. We should just stick to original council allowances.”

Redbridge councillors, including the leader, deputy leader and cabinet, all earn less than their equivalents at neighbouring councils such as Waltham Forest and Havering.

Councillor allowances have not increased since 2007 and have in fact been cut twice in the intervening period, in 2009 and 2014.

Pay for spokespersons 'was wasted' on 'non-job'

Deputy leader Cllr Kam Rai (Goodmayes) called Cllr Huggett’s remarks “probably one of the most disgusting sets of words” he had ever heard from her in his time on the council.

He said: “These accusations about lining pockets are clearly because she has lost her own patronage. She will not be able to hand out (an allowance) to her spokespersons.”

An extra allowance of £2,850 for the “spokesperson” of some committees - four of whom are Conservative and one Labour - was cut.

The Labour chair of the general purposes committee, previously unpaid, will now receive the £5,650 given to other chairs.

Explaining the loss of extra pay for spokespersons, who represent the party opposite the chairperson’s on committees but have few formal duties, Cllr Rai said: “That’s money that was wasted. They do not add any value to our residents or this council.”

Cllr Ross Hatfull (Lab, Valentines), who said he acted as a spokesperson “some years ago” when the role was unpaid, agreed “it was a non-job”.

He said: “If I was lucky, once every six months, I might get quoted in the Recorder. I could not tell you who our spokespeople are and I’m someone who follows it closely.

“Yes, this does increase the allowance of the general purposes committee chair but they are now meeting as much as any other committee so I think that’s fair.

“There are times when backbench councillors may do special projects and do a lot of work, chairing numerous meetings and going out into the community, but there’s nothing in this report that they have to be Labour councillors.”

Read more: Redbridge Council scraps plan to increase councillor pay

Cllr Duffell, himself a member of the general purposes committee, disagreed that the chairperson should receive an extra allowance.

He said: “It does sometimes meet quite a lot but in the last few months it’s been cancelled more times than not.

“The chair even joked that one of the meetings lasted 90 seconds. You can’t tell me this committee is as important as scrutiny committees.”

Original plans to slightly increase pay for all councillors were scrapped at a General Purposes committee meeting on January 12.

The decision was made after Cllr Duffell said the idea of a pay rise left “ a bad taste” in his mouth but Cllr Rai denied it was done because of his objection.

The new pay policy was approved, with Labour councillors voting in favour and 10 Conservative councillors choosing to abstain.

Under the new policy, every councillor will continue to receive £10,138, plus whatever extra allowance they earn if they perform additional duties.

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