Woolwich Town Hall
Councillors get extra allowances for sitting up late in scrutiny panels

Three Greenwich Labour councillors are in line for £5,000 pay rises under a scheme created by council leader Danny Thorpe.

Two backbench councillors will become “project assistants” to work alongside cabinet members, while Labour chief whip Angela Cornforth will pocket extra cash to reflect her workload.

Opposition leader Matt Hartley said the move “stinks”, but the idea has also been criticised by Labour councillors, who privately point out that the pay rises come as the council is cutting grants to voluntary groups.

The three roles are to be paid for by an underspend in the budget for councillors.

Special responsibilities

All councillors are paid a basic allowance each year to recognise their workload in scrutinising policy and dealing with casework – in Greenwich, this is £10,200 per year.

Many are then paid more for special responsibilities on top of that – so council leader Danny Thorpe gets an extra £52,438; deputy David Gardner collects another £33,514 and the other eight cabinet members pick up an extra £22,119.

A range of other roles also attract extra payments – a system used in councils across the country which many claim can effectively create a “payroll vote” to ensure a leader can get their way.

Now Thorpe is proposing to pay two backbenchers an extra £5,000 per year to join them as “project assistants” – effectively assistants to cabinet members. They are used in other councils; Labour-run Lambeth has three, who help develop policy.

But sceptics in the Labour group claim that Thorpe – who beat rival Averil Lekau to the leadership by 21 votes to 20 in an internal vote in May – is using the system to shore up his position.

Earlier this year, Thorpe lost a supporter in the group when Glyndon ward councillor Tonia Ashikodi was suspended from the party while she awaits trial on charges of fraud and perverting the course of justice.

Chief whip increase

Meanwhile, chief whip Cornforth is also due for a £5,000 rise. She currently gets an extra £5,623 for controlling the fractious Labour group – compared with £15,367 in Southwark and Bromley, and a whopping £16,356 in Lambeth.

Neighbouring Lewisham recently increased its chief whip allowance from £5,275 to £9,000.

The increases will be voted upon at next Wednesday’s council meeting.

853 has also heard from multiple sources that Thorpe was planning to recruit a political assistant, but a council spokesperson said there were “no plans” for such roles.

‘Internal politics’

Conservative leader Matt Hartley (who gets an extra £18,176 as leader of the opposition) says: “This stinks. For all their complaining about cuts, Greenwich Labour plans to vote through this pay rise for three Labour councillors, with no consultation and little explanation of what extra work they will supposedly be doing.

“We voted unanimously just a few months ago to freeze councillor allowances given the financial pressures on the council, so what has changed? I suspect this has more to do with patronage and the internal politics of a bitterly divided Labour Group than anything else.

“This is also the ultimate illustration of Labour’s approach to council finances – discover an underspend and then find ways to spend it, rather than keep costs down for the taxpayer.

“Conservative councillors will be voting against this proposal and if the Labour leadership had any political sense they would withdraw it now.”

A council spokesperson told 853: “A report is being taken to the next meeting of Full Council on 31 October 2018 which asks for agreement to the creation of two Project Assistants to work alongside Cabinet Members to support them in the development of policy work. It is proposed that they receive a special responsibility allowance of £5k each.

“There are currently no plans for the introduction of political assistants.”

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