'Independent body should set councillors' pay'
PAY levels for councillors can put people off standing for election, according to a cross-party group of MPs.
And elected representatives "shy away" from increasing their allowances fearing the public backlash, argues members of a Commons Select Committee.
The thorny issue of pay was one of three "practical barriers" to people becoming and remaining councillors said the MPs, who argued local authorities should be able to hand responsibility for setting allowances to an independent local body, similar to politicians at Westminster.
Other obstacles highlighted by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee in its inquiry into the future role of councillors, included the time commitment involved, and a lack of support from employers.
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On calling for the setting of allowances out of the hands of councillors altogether, the MPs stated: "Unlike the current panels, which can only make recommendations, these bodies would make decisions about levels of allowances that councils would be required to accept.
"It would be inconsistent for Parliament to deny councils the option it has chosen for the determination of its own pay and conditions."
Since May, 2011, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which already oversaw MPs' expenses, has been responsible for their pay and setting any salary increase.
The report said: "Being a councillor is a form of public service, and people do not become councillors for the money.
"Nevertheless, as being a councillor becomes more demanding and the time commitment greater, those becoming councillors have a right to expect an appropriate level of compensation, especially if they have to take time off work to carry out their duties.
"The levels of allowances currently offered by many councils, at best, do not encourage and, at worst, deter capable people from standing for election.
"The problem is exacerbated because councils are reluctant to vote for an increase for fear of the media and public reaction.
"We agree that decisions about allowances are best made locally, but consider that they should be taken out of councillors' hands."
The committee also said in the face of an increasingly demanding role, councillors should receive support from officers such as in managing their casework.
The government should also consider offering employers incentives to support staff who are councillors.