Waltham Forest councillors criticised over vote to increase allowances

Councillors in Waltham Forest have voted to increase their basic yearly allowance by 6 per cent.

The move means that councillors will now receive a minimum of £12,766.64 per year from April 1.

All Labour councilllors at the full council meeting on Thursday February 29 voted in favour of the motion, which will cost the council an extra £24,546 a year, while Conservative councillors opposed it.

Grace Williams, Labour leader of the council, said Waltham Forest allowances “severely lagged” behind much of London and the recommended amounts set by the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP).

The panel recommends councillors receive a minimum of £15,960 a year, while the leader would receive £62,092 and scrutiny chairs as much as £31,046.

The new council allowances would still sit below the recommended figures and Cllr Williams, whose income will rise from £54,520 to £56,635, said that Tory proposals would have seen the basic allowance reduced to £6,800.

She added: “It is disappointing to see Conservative councillors devalue our work. I am afraid that arguments like that play to a wider narrative about politicians being in it for themselves or not putting in the work, or not caring.”

Speaking for the motion to increase allowances, Markhouse ward councillor Sharon Waldron said the principles of representative democracy risked being “undermined” if councillors did not receive “adequate compensation” for their work.

She said: “It’s imperative that we recognise the value of education, time and effort that individuals invest when they choose to serve as councillors. Let’s recognise that not everyone comes from a privileged background. Some are from single-income homes, others juggle demanding jobs with council duties while some lack family support or must pay for childcare. Many councillors must sacrifice their income source to serve their communities.”

Explaining the need for diversity in Waltham Forest Town Hall, Cllr Waldron gave the example of a “young Black community activist” she had met who had ambitions of becoming a councillor.

“Upon learning about the allowances, she was shocked, unable to comprehend how anyone could afford to commit their time without sufficient compensation”, she said, adding, “her reaction underscores a stark reality: without fair allowances, many qualified individuals would be unable to serve, perpetrating a lack of diversity in our councils.”

Speaking after the vote, Emma Best, Waltham Forest Conservative leader, lambasted the pay rises as “irresponsible” given that residents were being asked to pay more council tax. 

She said: “Waltham Forest councillors receive a fair allowance in comparison to other boroughs in London and the current level is set well so that work-related expenditure and income loss is compensated but the allowance is not a financial incentive to serve.”

She added a 70 per cent rise in one post would be “hard to swallow” for many residents and said the funds could have gone towards saving South Chingford Community Library, which Tories say is at risk of closure.

Deputy Conservative group leader Afzal Akram said the increase in allowances would be more strongly felt by residents than councillors.

He said: “This increase in allowance will not affect our lives that much but it affects our residents.”

He added that councllors should “dump” the increases and put the money towards the community library in Chingford Mount Road.

Tara Copeland, the Liberal Democrats’ prospective parliamentary candidate for Leyton and Wanstead, said it was “shocking” councillors would vote to increase their allowances when they already earn “above average pay”.

She added: “This money should be spent lowering the cuts on children’s welfare or services for the disabled. It is another example of councillors lining their own pockets rather than looking to support their constituents and the most vulnerable people in Waltham Forest.”

According to a council report, the IRP says that the basic allowances in London are significantly lower than Scotland’s (£20,099) and Wales (£17,600).

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter