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Bill for senior Highland councillors rises by 15 per cent

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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Highland Council leader Councillor Raymond Bremner will take home pay of £45,669 – which is set by national legislation.
Highland Council leader Councillor Raymond Bremner will take home pay of £45,669 – which is set by national legislation.

Highland Council has today agreed a senior councillor pay package totalling £460,923.

This is a 15 per cent increase on 2017 but well below the maximum salaries it can pay its councillors, according to national legislation.

The council leader highlighted the package as a 'saving' but opposition members called out a decision not to pay area chairs outside of Inverness.

Councillor Richard Gale said the pay rise for Inverness leaders is symbolic of the council’s faltering approach to localism.

The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to scrap the remuneration plans, but lost by four votes despite support from the Tories.

What will senior members get paid?

Some local government salaries are set by national legislation. This includes the pay of the leader, convener and councillors. For the 2022/23 financial year, the salaries are: leader – £45,669; convener – £34,254 and councillor – £19,571

All these salaries are higher than in 2017.

However, Highland Council has the power to decide how much to pay other positions, up to a maximum value of £511,316, excluding the leader and convener.

At £460,923, Highland Council’s remuneration package is well within the spending limit. However, it is more costly than in the last political term, which came in under £400,000.

Key salaries include:

Leader of the opposition – £30,000 (up 18 per cent on 2017)

Chair of a strategic committee – £28,000 (up 10 per cent on 2017)

Vice-chair of a strategic committee – £21,500 (unpaid in 2017)

It also includes two new posts of ‘senior strategic chair’ on a salary of £30,000 each.

Sore point for rural Highland

During today’s debate, it was the salaries of area leaders that took the spotlight.

In the previous political administration, councillors who chaired the council’s 10 area committees received a modest top-up on their salary. Under the new plan, only the chairman of Inverness area committee will get a pay increase, to £25,000.

Councillor Richard Gale accused the joint administration of showing 'a total lack of respect for the remote and rural Highlands'.

Mr Gale tabled a motion that the council undertake a review of the remuneration package including the role of area committees. He wanted this review to report back after the summer recess.

Mr Gale’s amendment prompted a spirited debate in the chamber.

Leader Raymond Bremner said that some area committees have just four members, while Inverness has 23. He stressed that the pay rise was about workload, not geography.

Some previous area chairs got to their feet to say they took on the role as part of their duties and did not expect or want to be paid for it.

Councillor Derek Louden pointed out that paying area chairs would cost the council more money.

‘This is symbolic’

Several rural members weighed in to say that the decision is symbolic of the council’s urban bias.

“I think I speak for several members in the chamber when I say this is not about the money,” said councillor Molly Nolan, newly-elected to Cromarty Firth. “It’s about the symbolism and the message we are sending to our constituents.

“We will be saying if you do not live in Inverness you are less important.”

Caithness councillor Struan Mackie agreed. “The mood music coming out of the administration in very early days talks about a renewed focus on localism, but actually making that localism work.

“A core part of that has to be that chairs of the area committees feel enabled to carry out not just their duties but strive to do more.”

In his closing argument, Mr Gale said if he was chair he would gladly donate any uplift to charity. The message council should be sending out is that rural areas deserve due recognition.

“We bandy about localism but this is an opportunity to act on it,” he remarked.

Mr Bremner – himself a former chair of Caithness area committee – said he would always 'stick up' for rural areas. However, he felt the important point is that the total remuneration package is a saving on the amount proposed nationally.

Mr Bremner’s administration won the vote 34-30.

Speaking after the decision, the Highland Liberal Democrats said this was an 'indefensible' inflation of Inverness salaries.

“If we do not have regional equality in this council chamber then we cannot expect to achieve it across Highland,” said Mr Gale.

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