Councillors could ditch a move to withhold their allowances if they fail to attend three quarters of the meetings they should.
A meeting of Lichfield District Council will make a final decision on plans to end the practice of withholding the 12th month where members don’t turn up to at least 75% of scheduled meetings.
A report examining proposals for the revised constitution of the local authority has suggested that the recommendation – made by an independent remuneration panel – should end.
The move would mean councillors would pick up their basic allowance of £4,090, regardless of the number of sessions they actually attended.
At present, the council’s guidance on members allowances states: “The meetings that count against a member’s attendance record are those which are used by the council in its publication of members’ attendance summary on its website, plus all scheduled Planning and Safeguarding Member training sessions for each municipal year.
“If a member has a valid reason for missing a meeting, such as illness, paternity/maternity leave or other calamitous life events, then an exemption should be provided for, by the determination of the monitoring officer.”
Cllr Christopher Spruce, Cabinet member for finance and democratic services, said the policy had created more issues than it had solved.
“Whilst the scheme was introduced to drive up attendance, the council’s strategic overview and scrutiny committee found that an unintended consequence is that it unfairly penalises members who take on the most responsibility,” he said. “This is because they could be required to attend significantly more meetings than councillors who sit on fewer committees.
“While members who are hospitalised, have medical conditions or caring duties are given dispensation under the current scheme, members of the committee also felt it penalises those councillors who may be unable to attend meetings because they are unwell, on holiday or have personal commitments.
“The committee members also noted that the scheme has also taken significant officer time to administer.
“No decision has been made and councillors will decide on the removal of the scheme at the annual council meeting on May 15.”
Labour opposition group leader, Cllr Sue Woodward, said that while the scheme had not worked as planned, she said some councillors had “abused” the system.
“Although well-intended, this just hasn’t worked,” she said. “I believe that, in some cases, requests for dispensation have been abused and mask the true attendance figures, let alone the level of engagement at the meetings themselves including actually reading the council reports.
“Then there was the infamous case of the councillor who said he wouldn’t be attending at all during the last month of the year as he’d lost his month’s allowance.
“Of course there are times when councillors have illness or other circumstances to deal with and they can apply for dispensation in the proper, open manner that they always have. This scheme has allowed councillors to apply for dispensation with no visibility to their electors or other council members and left officers having to make the difficult judgements about whether to allow it or not.
“For me, the bottom line is that once a councillor is elected – whether they expected to be or not – they have a duty to their electors and to the council as a whole to do the job conscientiously or stand down.
“I hope that all those intending to stand next year will honour this most basic commitment.”
Withholding the 12th month also affects those members who get an additional special responsibility allowance (SRA).
Figures from Lichfield District Council show that basic councillor allowances totalled £189,491.75 during the 2016/17 period, while SRAs accounted for an additional £92,214.77 during the same period.
At present, SRA payments on top of the basic allowance include:
- Leader of the council: £12,270
- Deputy leader: £7,362
- Leader of the principal minority group: £2,800
- Deputy leader of the principal minority group: £700
- Other Cabinet members: £6,749
- Chairman of the council: £2,800
- Vice-chairman of the council: £700
- Chairmen of overview and scrutiny committees: £2,454
- Vice-chairmen of overview and scrutiny committees: £614
- Chairman of audit committee: £1,534
- Chairman of employment committee: £1,543
- Chairman of standards committee: £50 per meeting
- Chairman of planning committee: £6,135
- Vice-chairman of planning committee: £1,543
- Chairman of regulatory and licensing committee: £2,454
- Vice-chairman of of regulatory and licensing committee: £614
- Chairman of parish forum: £50 per meeting
The meeting of Lichfield District Council will also hear a recommendation that vice-chairs of the employment committee and the audit committee should also receive an SRA equivalent to 25% of the chairman’s allowance.