Cut Greenwich Council’s cabinet members – but pay them more, councillor says

Woolwich Town Hall
Greenwich currently has eight cabinet members

Greenwich Council’s ruling cabinet should have fewer members – but they should be better-paid, one of the borough’s Conservative councillors says.

Spencer Drury’s suggestion comes five weeks after councillors handed themselves a 2 per cent rise in their allowances – their first in seven years – amid shambolic scenes after the papers recommending the rise were published late. Civic mayor Christine May told councillors they were “acting like schoolchildren”.

The cabinet, which usually meets monthly, is the council’s main decision-making body. In principle, this shuts all other councillors out of decision-making, although in practice it is influenced by the fractious behind closed doors meetings of the council’s Labour group. It consists of leader Danny Thorpe, deputy David Gardner, and eight other members, who each get paid £22,562 on top of their basic £10,415 allowance. Some cabinet members also work outside the council.

In addition, Thorpe has appointed two other councillors – Matt Morrow and Anthony Okereke – to be “project assistants” for an extra £5,100. There is no job description for these roles and, unlike the cabinet members, they do not have to account for themselves to scrutiny panels.

Greenwich council deputy leader David Gardner claimed that it was following recommendations set out by London Councils – a body representing all the capital’s boroughs – but Drury disputes this.

In a blog post published last weekend, Drury said that most Greenwich councillors were paid less than the London average – and that cabinet members were especially worse off compared to their peers elsewhere in the capital. He recommended cutting the number of roles to five – but beefing up their extra pay to £34,642.

He said: “According to London Councils the allowance for each cabinet member should be £36,917 but in fact they are paid only £22,119.

“This pattern of substantial underpayment compared to London Councils’ scheme is true for almost every post in Greenwich except the deputy leader (91% of London Councils’ recommendation), the chair of the planning board (112%), leader of the opposition (112%) and the two recently introduced project (or cabinet) assistants (194%).”

Drury recommends cutting the number of cabinet posts to five, making the leader of the opposition chair of scrutiny and scrapping the highways committee – which largely scrutinises responses to petitions from residents who want parking zones, speeding enforcement or rat-runs blocked. He recommends keeping the project assistants – but halving their extra money and “using them to support the cabinet members more proactively”.

Lewisham has eight cabinet members (plus elected mayor Damien Egan and his deputy Chris Best), as does Southwark (plus leader Peter John and deputy Rebecca Lury). Bexley has six (plus leader Teresa O’Neill and deputy Louie French) while Bromley has five (plus leader Colin Smith and deputy Peter Fortune).

Greenwich’s current cabinet consists of Averil Lekau (adult social care, health and anti-poverty), Denise Scott-McDonald (air quality, public realm and transport), Jackie Smith (community safety and integrated enforcement), Miranda Williams (culture, leisure and third sector), Denise Hyland (economy, skills and apprenticeships), Christine Grice (finance and resources), Sizwe James (growth and strategic development) and Chris Kirby (housing). Thorpe also takes a cabinet role in charge of community and corporate services, while Gardner is in charge of children’s services and schools.

Under Drury’s scheme, all councillors would be getting a basic allowance of £10,364 per year, slightly less than now. But despite losing control of the council meeting where the allowances were decided, civic mayor Christine May would see her additional money rise from £10,046 to £15,208 per year.

Drury’s boss, opposition leader Matt Hartley, would see his extra money rise from £18,540 to £34,642 – but would have much more to do as he would also be chair of scrutiny, a role currently filled by Chris Lloyd.

He also says that 31 out of 51 of Greenwich’s councillors are getting extra allowances – London Councils recommends no more than half of councillors should. “Given how split the Labour Group is, the reasons for this seem obvious but it means that the payroll vote in Greenwich is much larger than it should be,” Drury said. He says his proposal would cut this number to 23.

The cost and structure of running Greenwich Council is not the most attention-grabbing issue, but it does come up from time to time – particularly after incidents like the last council meeting. Drury has also pressed for Greenwich to investigate switching to an elected mayoralty – as in Lewisham – or to a committee system, which would decisions taken by cross-party committees rather than a cabinet, as used in Lib Dem-run Sutton and Kingston.

Last year, Thorpe wanted to recruit an extra council officer to work as a full-time political assistant – a role common in other London boroughs (such as in Southwark – in 2014’s council election, one losing Tory candidate in Greenwich also found he had lost his job in Southwark when the Conservatives he worked for were wiped out). However, for this to work, the opposition would have to have an assistant too. 853 understands that Hartley rejected the idea, and the proposal fell through.

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