At Lutfur Rahman’s first full council as mayor in October 2010, the East London Advertiser reported the following:
Lutfur Rahman will not have appreciated that his first matter of council business last night (October 27) as the borough’s new mayor was a £10,000 cut to his salary.
Appearing at the first council meeting at the Town Hall in Mulberry Place since his election, he spoke of his pride in his new role in front of over 100 supporters in the public gallery.
Tower Hamlet’s first-ever directly-elected mayor also rewarded his campaign manager, Ohid Ahmed, by appointing him as deputy mayor but will wait until November 11 to announce his cabinet.
Mr Rahman’s joy at the occasion soon turned to dismay though as he accused the council’s Labour Group of pettiness in putting forward an amendment to cut his annual salary from £75,095 to £65,000.
The amendment to a constitutional report, which also limits the number of paid advisers the Mayor can employ, was passed by the council.
Mayor Rahman said: “It saddens me on the first day that we indulge in this kind of petty politics.
“During my two years as council leader I was the only leader in this council’s history that took a 25 per cent pay cut for the year.
“Let me say, I don’t do this for money but let me remind you I have given up a successful legal career and a partnership in a legal firm.
“What drives me is will and the urge to serve. I am happy with whatever I am paid.”
The mayors of Hackney, Lewisham and Newham earn salaries of between £75,000 and £78,000 a year.
Speaking to the council, Labour councillor Josh Peck, chairman of the working group which put forward the constitutional report, said there had been an ‘oversight’ after the report was originally agreed in August.
At an internal Labour meeting in September, members narrowly voted to increase the salary for the full-time role to £75,000 but Mr Peck told The Advertiser today this shouldn’t have been included in the report because it was not agreed by other parties.
Last night, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem councillors all voted in favour of the amendment.
But Independent councillor Oliur Rahman, one of the ‘gang-of-eight’ councillors expelled from the Labour Party for backing Lutfur Rahman’s mayoral bid, said: “This can only be a petty and cynical response to losing an election.”
Mr Peck replied that the lower salary was set before mayoral candidates were selected and said the new mayor proposed a salary of £32,000 before he was shortlisted.
He said today: “£65,000 is the right salary, it is a good salary.”
This coming Wednesday, the full council will in Item 11 debate the pay arrangements for elected representatives over the coming year.
In an email to councillors eight days ago, Mayor John Biggs explained the proposal from the majority Labour group (which is likely to pass).
This is the proposed table of pay:
[Since his email, proposed pay rises have been suggested for the Speaker to £10,000 and for the Deputy Speaker to £5,000.]
First off, let’s have these facts in our minds: 1) deep Government cuts affecting frontline services; 2) pay for most local government employees is proposed to go up by just 1% this year; 3) councillors’ pay has remained frozen for a number of years; 4) some councillors rely on their allowances as sole (declared) income (not a good thing); and 5) very many councillors work extremely hard, while others do not.
Under these proposals, there will be inflation-busting pay rises for everyone. Basic pay for all councillors will go up by 5.3%. Oli Rahman would see his Special Responsibility Allowance for being leader of the THING go up to £11,300 (7.5%); and Tory leader Peter Golds would have a 40% jump in his SRA from £5,709 to £8,000. The total pot paid to councillors for all these roles would rise 6%.
But most of the political backlash will no doubt focus on John Biggs.
As I’m sure you’ve already spotted, the proposed mayoral salary goes back to the figure slashed by Labour more than five years ago – to £75,000. He has announced he accept only half that rise this year (to around £70k), and will take the rest next year if progress has been made. And although he’s entitled to £11,300 as a majority group leader, I think I’m right in saying he doesn’t take that.
The likes of Oli will also point out that John’s pay rise comes just a week or so after the loss of his salary for being a GLA member.
I think this is a difficult one. Pay at some levels of local government is outrageously poor; at others it’s ridiculously high. The council has just recruited a new head of communications, for example, at a salary of around £100k. Many believe that’s way too high, while others believe it needs pitching at that level to attract good candidates. But whatever the merits of that salary, should the executive mayor’s post, done properly, be valued almost a third lower?
I asked John to justify the rise in the context of cuts and value for money. His answer below is damning of his predecessor’s work ethic (something that is echoed among senior officers). This is what he told me:
Because of the stand-off between the former mayor and council there had been no proper review of allowances for some years. The proper time for such changes is in my view in the period immediately following the elections but this was missed.
I am proposing a number of changes to committees and structures and as a part of this a short review of allowances. I have informed and involved the opposition leaders in these discussions. The main change is to update the general allowance paid to all members. Increases are also proposed for those holding Special Responsibilities (SRAs), and for the Mayor.
If agreed the Tower Hamlets allowances will become fairly average for London and our Mayor would remain the lowest paid. If the Council agreed the change to my allowance I would only take half of it, with the other half next year provided we have made further progress in sorting the Council out.
As a further consideration for members, particularly those who rely on their allowances for a significant part of their income, it is worth noting that the Government recently banned members from membership of the pension scheme, which included employers contributions of over 10% on top of their allowance. This loss is partially also reflected in the updating of allowances proposed.
As far as the cuts argument is concerned: there is never a good time to agree allowances, but all are within or below the range suggested by an independent panel for all London councillors, whose report guided us. However, the increased cost of about £46,000 should be considered against the saving of about £300,000 in the costs of operating the Mayor’s office, and the mayors allowance compared the the scrapping of the chauffeured car, which saved about £30,000 a year.
A comparison with council staff is tempting but is based on soft foundations – whereas for example many council officers receive increments, promotions or upgrading, plus an annual increase in most years, elected members have no such opportunities and do not have secure employment as councillors, while making in most cases great personal and career sacrifices. It’s quite right that these are tough times but the proposals are a recommendation and up to the Council to agree or reject.
As regards my workload and whether I am worth a reasonable pay that is for others to judge, but I work at least 80 hours a week, am at my desk by 7.15am most mornings, getting home normally after 10pm. As an indicator, I read and respond to about 1000 emails a week, with more than this dealt with by my office. The council is in a worse state than I had expected – beyond the headlines of the misbehaviour of the previous mayor a whole number of key decisions had been missed, in an outrageous failure of leadership. Were it not for the superb effort and commitment of many of our officers we would be in a far worse state.
I anticipate working at this level for the foreseeable future. The previous Mayor on the other hand, as far as I can tell, rarely appeared before the afternoon, generally failed to keep appointments, never sent emails on official business and appears to have ‘kicked the can down the road’ where leadership was needed.
Those who said he was a hero should more accurately perhaps have scored him as a zero. And the borough will take some time to recover. It takes serious and dedicated effort to do that.
An executive mayor is full time job. If he had more hair, John I’m sure would say he’s a L’Oreal mayor (“because I’m worth it”.) Is he? What do you think?
He’s going to get a lot of flak for this – and as it was Labour which cut Lutfur’s pay, he knows where to point the finger of blame…
Personally, I think if he does the job well, he deserves it. I have more concern over SRAs paid to other councillors, and it will be interesting to examine who gets which posts for the coming year and then to check their attendance records thus far.