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Anger over gag on allowances debate

PUBLISHED: 11:00 28 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:26 07 July 2010

Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox

Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox

Shaun Lowthorpe

Conservative county councillors yesterday voted en masse to block a move to discuss the allowances of so-called "twin-hatters" by refusing to give a platform to a member of the public who had been invited to a meeting to raise the issue.

Conservative county councillors yesterday voted en masse to block a move to discuss the allowances of so-called “twin-hatters” by refusing to give a platform to a member of the public who had been invited to a meeting to raise the issue.

Following the council election in June there are now 50 so-called twin-hat members of both the county and district councils.

Yesterday members of the scrutiny committee were asked to look at the issue of their allowances and expenses, and whether having such a vast proportion of the 84 members sitting on two bodies was a healthy state of affairs.

The request came from a member of the public, John Martin, who said there was a concern about the levels of payments councillors could now enjoy and also conflict of interest issues where councillors are members of more than one authority.

Mr Martin said twin-hatters now enjoyed a starting allowance of £12,500, and the highest paid, cabinet member Harry Humphrey, gets £40,411 as a member of the county council, King's Lynn and West Norfolk borough council and Norfolk Police Authority.

Council leader Daniel Cox, who is also a South Norfolk district councillor, gets £39,390.

Another councillor William Nunn, who is also leader of Breckland district council, gets £34,929.

Mr Martin, a solicitor from Great Witchingham, had produced a four-page report for consideration, suggesting allowances for twin-hatters should be capped and they should not take up outside commercial interests.

It also said that if twin-hatters waived their basic allowances they received from districts that would put back between £175,000 to £200,000 into the public coffers.

And he queried how county councillors could fit in several different roles while, in some cases, holding down full time jobs.

But the Tories voted that the items should not be discussed and also enacted a closure motion to curtail any debate, sparking anger from the 62-year-old.

“I am astounded that the committee should encourage members of the public to come forward and then decline to even give them a chance to speak at the meeting,” Mr Martin said. “It has been a complete waste of time, but these points won't go away and Norfolk County Council needs to acknowledge that these are matters of considerable concern to the public.

“What really gets me is the arrogance I heard from some of these people. They will do what they want.”

Opposition councillors, who were in the minority on the committee, had pressed for the issue to be looked at and said the Tories risked looking ridiculous and being seen to behave like Westminster MPs over their expenses.

But the Tories are privately scathing of committee chairman Paul Morse for allowing the issue to be brought to the committee in the first place because it is not in its remit.

Conservative councillor John Dobson, who moved that the discussion should be shelved, said the rules for twin-hatters were already clearly set in the council's constitution, while allowances were set by an independent panel.

Mr Morse said: “I think it's very disappointing that the Conservative's won't allow other people to speak, but at the end of the day we have to act in accordance with the majority of the committee.”

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