Labour’s Clr Cathy Scott was officially elected leader of Kirklees Council but her first policy was engulfed in a row over “bullying” and “intimidation.”
Clr Scott, who has taken a 10% cut in her leader’s salary, wanted all the council’s 69 councillors to give up a pay rise and agree a voluntary 5% cut to their £15,080 annual salary.
That would save around £100,000 and was aimed at showing solidarity with council staff facing job losses and the public battling a cost-of-living crisis.
However, the wording of the policy – seeking a recorded vote of which councillors agreed to take a pay cut and which refused – was branded “bullying” by Tory deputy leader Clr John Taylor (Kirkburton).
Speaking at a full meeting of Kirklees Council at Huddersfield Town Hall, Tory leader Clr David Hall (Liversedge & Gomersal) described the call to effectively ‘name and shame’ councillors as “intimidation” and “unbelievably crass.”
He added: “I was disappointed that Clr Scott announced this in the press rather than consulting councillors. It’s a serious error of judgement to push ahead with this.
“There are members who cannot afford a 5% cut. I know. I have spoken to them. It could have been settled discreetly but Labour wants to shame members who can’t afford it.
“We will not support that motion and my group will not participate in this charade. It’s a pantomime.”
Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors spoke in support of accepting a pay cut at a time when the council must make savings of £47 million and could make up to 750 staff redundant.
Clr Tyler Hawkins (Lab, Dalton) said councillors were not “making big bucks” but it wasn’t councillors who were delivering public services. That was council workers who were the “grafters.”
He added: “This is the worst economic backdrop in a generation and some of our staff are going to lose their jobs. All that’s being asked here is that we are shouldering some of the burden.”
Union activists staged a protest against cuts outside Huddersfield Town Hall. Pictures by: GORDON PARKS
Lib Dem leader Clr John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said allowances for councillors helped cover time and expenses so that “we don’t go back to when only independently wealthy or privately-funded individuals can afford to be councillors.”
He was concerned over the “lack of anonymity” and added: “My advice to the new leader is not to do knee-jerk reactions.”
Clr Taylor described the policy as “bullying” at another meeting and he told full council: “One of the values of this council is to be kind. That’s what worries me.
“This is not kind to those who will struggle to take a cut. I am happy to do that but I do worry about other people.
“To ask people to admit publicly, when it might affect their families, sets the wrong tone for the new administration.”
Clr Imran Safdar (Lab, Crosland Moor and Netherton) said many people out there believed that councillors “all had their hands in the pot” and giving up 5% of their salary was a way to show they were not “stereotypical councillors.”
He added: “People are struggling and people need to know we stand with them in solidarity.”
Councillors voted to approve the policy 43-15 with one abstention. The Conservative group voted against.
Despite all the controversy and the war of words, in the end the vote WASN’T about which councillors agreed to a salary cut. Councillors who voted ‘yes’ to the policy could decide not to take the pay cut – and vice versa.
The council will email Councillors to ask if they agree to take the reduction. If councillors don’t reply, the pay cut won’t be implemented.
Which councillors agree to take the reduction and which don’t will eventually be made public when councillors’ allowances are published.