Residents groups' budget amendments suggest cuts to senior councillor pay to fund street cleaning
- Credit: Ken Mears
Payments to Havering cabinet members and committee chairs could be cut if either of two amendments to the borough’s budget proposals are approved next week.
Special responsibility allowances (SRAs) are paid to councillors who take on additional responsibilities such as cabinet posts, committee chairships and leadership positions.
They range from just over £2,000 each year for some committee chairships to £45,901 per annum for the leader of the council, a position currently held by Cllr Damian White.
Councillors from the North Havering Residents Group (NHRG) want to reduce SRAs by 15 per cent, with the £77,000 annual saving to be redirected to street cleaning.
The Hornchurch Residents' Association, together with the Upminster and Cranham Residents' Assocation (UCRA), have also submitted their own amendment, which would cut some SRAs and delete a number of positions entirely.
Their proposal would see two cabinet posts and one deputy cabinet post removed, as well as the removal of the highways committee, adjudication and review committee, joint venture working party committee and three overview and scrutiny subcommittee chairships.
The £218,434 proposed savings would be reallocated to street cleaning and road and pavement maintenance.
Cllr White recently came under criticism from opposition groups after creating two new cabinet roles for members of his party.
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At the time, Cllr White said: "We have one of the smallest cabinets in the country and each cabinet member has a significant workload, particularly myself – certainly, the largest cabinet portfolio that any cabinet member at Havering has ever had.
“When I became leader, I combined three portfolios – but it’s just not sustainable, doing three cabinet roles myself.”
NHRG councillor Cllr Darren Wise said his group “didn’t feel as though the additional cabinet members were warranted” and said some of the money should be given back to the residents.
On Wednesday, February 23, anti-tax campaigners from the TaxPayers’ Alliance held up novelty cheques outside Havering Town Hall to highlight the cost of SRAs.
The group has been urging NHRG councillors, who have previously helped the Conservative minority administration to pass budgets, to vote against the 2022/23 proposals, which include a 2.99 per cent rise in council tax.
However, Cllr Wise told the Recorder the tax rise would likely pass as “no one has come up with an alternative budget”.
The budget went to an overview and scrutiny committee last Tuesday, February 15, and to cabinet the following day.
It was green-lit by both and will be voted on by full council on March 2.
Cllr Damian White did not respond to a renewed request for comment.
What’s in this year’s budget?
As well as a 2.99 per cent increase in council tax, this year’s budget includes cuts to achieve £13million in savings.
Around half of this (£7million) is to be achieved through a reduction of around 400 staff roles, which council officers insist will not affect the quality of service.
The council is hoping to achieve most of this by removing vacancies and reducing dependence on agency staff, but it estimates that roughly 100 redundancies will be necessary.
A voluntary redundancy scheme will be set up, but compulsory redundancies will take place if the scheme does not achieve the desired effect.
Pressures on adult social care, owing to the Covid-19 crisis, have been cited as the reason for cuts.
An additional £41.3m spending related to "demographic pressures" has been planned for 2022/23.
Despite plans for a further £7m staffing reduction in 2023/24, the council is forecasting a budgetary gap of roughly £7.9m for that year, which has been attributed to uncertainty about central government support.
Harold Wood on Havering’s budget plans
On Station Road in Harold Wood, local resident Dan Cockle said it was a "bit of a worry” to hear of rising taxes along with staff cuts.
“We need to see where the money is going to go,” said the 34-year-old finance worker.
“When the cost of living is going up, wages are not going up, for them to increase by three per cent and cut staff - that’s not good.
“I don’t mind paying for any service if it is a good service and it's being used but I can’t see where they are getting those increases from."
He believes the council needed to “justify and show good cause” when introducing new cabinet posts.
Amazon worker Paul Ratinon said: “It’s very unfair; it almost feels like the local residents are being penalised."
Paul blamed central government for the measures, saying they did too little to support local government.
He said: “A lot of it stems back to the government. I just don’t think the latest budget plans they have announced are really supporting things like this.
“In terms of overall budgets, the government could have come up with a better strategy and it is impacting our local government.”
Rachel Palmer, although she admitted that she did not use council services “as much as a lot of people would”, said she did not often notice the impact of council tax rises on services.
“I just pay it when it goes up,” she said.
On hearing of the rise in adult social care costs, she said: “If that’s the reason they are doing it, then that would make sense."