Pensions forced through for Newham councillors despite strong opposition

Pension talks at Newham Council

Pension talks at Newham Council - Credit: Getty Images/Hemera

A new pension scheme is set to be introduced for councillors despite opposition by some members who say it is coming at the wrong time with Newham forced to find some £50m in spending cuts next year.

During a cabinet meeting on Thursday evening, members voted to push ahead with plans to provide a pension only those councillors who are entitled to a special responsibility allowance, of which there are about 30 in Newham Council.

This was despite a motion from five out of eight members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that said cabinet members should defer the introduction of a pension scheme the day before.

In a speech delivered to scrutiny members, Cllr Dianne Walls said it “will cost the Newham taxpayer far more than we can afford in these straitened times”.

She added: “At a time when there is an unprecedented attack on local government by central government in the form of massive cuts to grants given to the most deprived boroughs, it is inconceivable that councillors should appear to be protecting their own interests.”

The move has already divided the Labour party camp with a number of councillors taking to social media to air their opposition. Others have also spoken anonymously to the Recorder and expressed that they would not accept the pension even if eligible.

One said: “I am very disappointed that the mayor did not reconsider his decision and defer this pension scheme until we are in a more secure financial position.

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“To decide to disregard the recommendation of overview and scrutiny in less than 24 hours is breath taking disrespect for the committee by the mayor and cabinet.”

Another councillor added: “I do not intend on taking a single penny from the pension scheme. I do not want to be a part of the scheme and have never taken anything other than my allowances and do not intend to.

“The decision is disappointing and completely disregarding of the people of Newham.”

During the scrutiny meeting, Cllr Walls told colleagues that when the issue of pensions first arose in June last year, members had “not yet been briefed on the emerging catastrophic budgetary position facing the Council in the coming three years”.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales explained the scheme would “restore” pensions that had been taken away by central government in March of last year.

Sir Robin said: “It’s not about giving people pensions, it’s about restoring pensions that were taken by government action.”

A Newham Council spokesperson added: “Following the government’s decision last year to ban elected members from the local government pension scheme, the council’s cabinet agreed in June 2015 to develop proposals for setting up a Newham Pension Fund that applicable members could join.

“The scheme would act as an inducement to attract a wider range of economically diverse and younger candidates, who would help improve representation across the borough and enhance democracy. In addition, the scheme would make it easier for existing councillors to take on more responsible posts meaning they would need to spend less time working outside the council.

“The council’s overview and scrutiny called in this decision. Following this calling in, the council’s July cabinet noted the decision of overview and scrutiny and decided to proceed with investigating the proposals for the scheme.”