Labour split as 'outrageous' £12,000 a year bill to pay chief whips passed

An independent panel recommended that both Labour and the Conservatives should be entitled to pay their chief whips with public money.
An independent panel recommended that both Labour and the Conservatives should be entitled to pay their chief whips with public money.

Controversial plans to pay chief whips for the first time in Wakefield have been passed, despite eight Labour councillors voting against the move and their own front bench.

Councillors voted 32 - 19 in favour of the move, which will see the ruling Labour group receive nearly £9,500 of public money a year to pay their chief whip, Richard Forster, who helps enforce political discipline and acts as a conduit between Cabinet members and backbenchers.

The issue was discussed at the council's annual general meeting on Thursday.

The issue was discussed at the council's annual general meeting on Thursday.

The Conservatives, as an opposition party with 11 councillors, will get just over £3,000 to pay their chief whip

The move had been put forward by an independent remuneration panel, which said that the whip's role had "evolved" into one akin to a "group business manager" as the reason behind recommending it be a paid job.

Although separate sources suggested Labour members were told to support the idea, party chiefs dispute this, and say it was a free vote.

Councillors George Ayre, Jack Hemingway, Pauline Kitching, Lyn Masterman, Hilary Mitchell, Olivia Rowley, Steve Tulley and Lynne Whitehouse all voted against the panel's report, alongside opposition members.

Councillor George Ayre said that taxpayers' cash should not be used to enforce discipline within political parties.

Councillor George Ayre said that taxpayers' cash should not be used to enforce discipline within political parties.

Speaking after the vote, which took place at the council's annual meeting, Pontefract South councillor Ayre said: "They (the remuneration panel) can dress it up how they like but we shouldn't be using public money to instil party discipline.

"The argument that other councils do it - therefore we should - just doesn't cut it.

"We should be leading the way in spending public money wisely, and this goes against that on every level.

"I'm disappointed that all Labour councillors didn't vote against this outrageous recommendation."

Conservative group leader Nadeem Ahmed

Conservative group leader Nadeem Ahmed

There was also criticism in the chamber from the Conservative opposition, though it is not clear whether or not they will refuse to take the cash they're now entitled to.

Speaking in the chamber during a debate on the issue, Tory group leader Nadeem Ahmed said: "Given the savings that have had to be made by councils up and down the country, I really can't agree with this.

"I think it sends out completely the wrong message to council taxpayers who will see their rates go up again by five per cent this year.

"Although the remuneration panel is independent, it is appointed by the council. We can go against the decision of the panel."

Coun Ahmed also said that the panel should consider issues like the timing of meetings, repeating previous criticism that holding them during the day puts off younger working people from becoming councillors.

The vote also meant councillors' allowances will go up in line with any increases for the local authority's staff.

This continues a long-standing arrangement to ensure their pay keeps up with inflation.

Labour Cabinet member Les Shaw spoke in support of the panel and said that councillors had voted against allowance rises in the past during times of austerity.

He said: "This is an independent report, and they are recommending certain things.

"I think it's an excellent report. It's a group of people from outside the council who are looking at it and they are real experts in this sort of thing."

Local Democracy Reporting Service