Council pay row: Members could pocket more while staff face a cut

Top councillors could pocket a 20 per cent rise in their allowances – at the same time as low-paid staff face a pay cut to help save £1 million.

Union representatives met Boston Borough Council bosses last week ahead of plans to trim the wage bill through cuts to pay and conditions.

The Standard understands changes could mean pay cuts for up to 120 staff members, with CCTV operators facing a possible 10 per cent salary drop.

On Monday, councillors will be asked to agree a 20 per cent rise in their ‘special responsibility allowances’.

The news also comes as we this week exclusively reveal the expenses claimed by the authority’s high-paid chief executive Richard Harbord.

Mr Harbord was brought in as a troubleshooter to turn around the council’s finances in 2009. In 2010/11 he claimed £16,017.17 in total for rail and taxi fares and overnight stays at the White Hart Hotel. His main expenses are now covered by his pay packet.

He is currently paid £121,500 for his 15-day-a-month contract, with the money going to a consultancy firm. Councillors will be asked to continue this £675-a-day deal until 2015 on Monday.

Unison regional officer Catherine Mellors said cuts would be fought and added: “What’s happening is disgusting. Morale is at rock bottom.”

The council says it isn’t ready to put plans to staff and hopes for ‘positive and constructive’ union feedback.

Borough bosses say possible cuts to staff’s pay and conditions will help save jobs and maintain services as it faces more funding cuts.

A letter sent by the Boston council to union bosses says the authority must find £750,000 to £1 million in the medium term.

Bosses have sounded out the unions over plans to save some of that by overhauling the pay structures and terms and conditions of staff.

The union is upset because members had agreed to a three-year deal in 2010 to freeze pay and cut conditions including sick pay – and hoped to claw some of that back.

Mrs Mellors added: “These are the refuse collectors and swimming instructors - low paid people who agreed to help the council on the basis that after three years they would be able to return to some of those pay and conditions.”

Labour oppositioncouncillors were upset that they were not allowed in the meeting to discuss the plans.

The council says the proposals are at a very early stage and are part of a drive to ‘cut costs, maintain value for money, protect services and modernise’.

Council leader Peter Bedford said: “The important thing is that we are protecting jobs and services. There is not any intention to reduce either.”

The news comes as councillors prepare to discuss a possible 20 per cent hike in the ‘special reponsibility allowances’ paid to members who hold high-ranking positions, on top of their basic allowance.

A report by the independent remuneration panel says our councillors earn far less than elsewhere and that this may deter people from standing.

If agreed, the rise would see the leader’s allowance jump from £6,487 to £8,054, after inflation. Cabinet members would get £652 more and the deputy leader an extra £913.

Coun Bedford said he would make his views on the plan known at Monday’s meeting.