Barnet Council admits it took legal advice on legality of councillors' allowances

Questions have been raised over the legality of Barnet Borough Council’s allowance payments to councillors.

Local authorities are required by law to make a members’ allowances scheme before the beginning of each year, taking into regard recommendations made by an independent panel.

However, the last scheme of members’ allowances — which were approved on September 14, 2010 — expired on March 31, 2014.

The Times Series therefore asked Barnet Council if councillor allowance payments made in April and May this year were legal and, if proved not, would members be forced to pay them back?

Barnet Council told us it sought legal advice on this issue and was told its members’ allowance scheme can be amended at any time but can only be revoked at the end of the year.

The council added that as it had just moved to a committee system the scheme can be revoked when the new system comes into operation.

In previous Barnet Borough Council reports in which the members’ allowances scheme is set, the council has said: “The council is required under the Local Authorities (Members Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003 to make a Members’ Allowances Scheme before the beginning of each year providing for the payment of a basic allowance to each Member.

“Local authorities have the choice of adopting either their own local scheme of members’ allowances or a scheme recommended by the relevant local government association. Barnet has always taken the first option in adopting a local scheme rather than that of London Councils (formerly the Association of London Government).”

But in this year’s report dated June 2, council leader Councillor Richard Cornelius failed to make reference to any independent panel in his report – despite noting the previous members’ allowances scheme had already expired.

The report says: “The previous scheme of Members Allowances, approved by council on September 14, 2010, ran through to March 31, 2014. It is therefore necessary to agree a new schedule of Allowances Payable to Members for the 2014-2018 council, which reflects the Council’s new form of governance.”

Barnet Council has since issued a statement claiming the authority decided to follow guidelines set by London Councils since 2010 — this is despite previous council reports claiming Barnet Council ‘has always’ adopted a local scheme.

London Council’s independent report was not issued until June 1 — more than a week after the borough’s councillors were elected on May 23.

As a result, the authority has said it paid members the same amounts they had been paid the previous month, until the report was issued.

Barnet Council confirmed to the Times Series that it did run a local scheme but said since 2010 this had been “informed by the independent review panel of London Councils”. The Council says its  allowances, both pre June 1 and post June 2 are well within the range set by the panel adding that payments are typically below those recommended.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the council said: “An analysis of this report was undertaken as soon as possible and communicated to the leader, who was satisfied that the allowances were within the recommendations of the London Councils review.

“The Independent Panel is only recommending minor changes to the model scheme, which, unhelpfully, makes no reference to suitable schemes for councils that have moved to the committee system.

“Our scheme is compliant with its recommendations, with one exception, that they recommend that the dependant carers allowance should be at least the London Living Wage of £8 an hour. Our current rate is £7 per hour. Their report says rates offered in London currently vary between £5.27 and £9.26).”

The statement adds the changes to the scheme proposed by the leader of the council on June 2 make £90,000 worth of savings compared to 2013/14.

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