By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A “hardship fund” has been proposed for cash-strapped Kent county councillors that lose their seat in next year’s elections.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) head of governance, Benjamin Watts, has called for a wide review looking at options open to County Hall for helping councillors short of money following the elections next May amid the “unprecedented” Covid crisis.
The KCC chief officer says he is “concerned” on a “humane level” that some elected members leaving office in May may find it difficult to find new work due to mass job cuts and a far more competitive labour market.
He said: “I am a little concerned that if in May we are still where we are now, and, we have some members who have been with us for some time and don’t retain their seat, that we may have some individuals in a hardship situation.”
No specific options have been laid out as more research is needed. The basic allowance for a KCC member is around £16,000 for the financial year. Some receive extra payment for committee chair roles or being cabinet members.
But councillors are not entitled to redundancy payments and the majority are unable to contribute to pension schemes whilst they are serving. The issue was proposed by Mr Watts and debated by a panel of councillors yesterday.
KCC’s main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem) said hardship payments for people leaving public office was “nothing new” and is built into Parliament but he suggested seeing whether other councils had done something similar.
He warned: “It is something we need to look at very carefully and be sensitive to public opinion. Clearly none of us would want KCC to be out of line with the sector at large.”
Former KCC cabinet member Cllr Bryan Sweetland (Con), who is the chairman of KCC member services, said MPs received “parachute payments” when they lose their seats and have pensionable jobs, which few Kent councillors had.
KCC’s Labour Group leader Cllr Dara Farrell complained that writing articles about councillor allowances had “turned into almost an industry in itself” while little was said about the earnings of MPs or police and crime commissioners.
Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott’s annual salary is now £86,700 while MPs receive around £80,000.
Cllr Farrell said: “It would be great if we could be more on the front foot talking about the fact we don’t get pensions and that wind-down payments are not paid when we lose our seats.
“We don’t have the opportunity to go on and write for the Telegraph or make after dinner speeches.”