Alliance Councillors Alan Lawther and Neil Kelly have expressed very strong opposition to the consultation paper from Environment Minister Edwin Poots which proposes a final salary pension scheme for Councillors. The scheme could, in Antrim, involved ratepayers being asked to find around £20,000 to £30,000 to help fund pensions for the 19 councillors.
Councillor Lawther stated that: “I am very angry at these proposals. Councillors are not employees -they choose to become candidates and the electorate may choose them. There is an allowance of £9,000 per annum for the services a councillor provides to the community. The current system means that the role of councillor is in essence defined as a part-time post. Any pension that a councillor needs should therefore come from their other employment, although the allowance they receive could be put towards a personal pension. Currently there should be no pension scheme, as it is not needed and could be very costly to the public. However, if RPA had gone ahead then there would have been a need because of the greatly expanded responsibilities of councillors.
“Secondly, in these economically difficult times it is unreasonable to expect rate payers to fund salary related pension schemes for councillors. Indeed it is estimated that there is already a £100 billion black hole in the English local government pension scheme, one that can only be filled by the tax payer. It is unlikely that public sector final salary schemes for new entrants will survive for much longer, they are simply unsustainable. The private sector has recognised this for over a decade and many salary related schemes have closed. To add councillors to the scheme is therefore creating a further liability for the ratepayer and is going against current pension trends.”
Councillor Neil Kelly pointed out further problems with such a scheme saying: “As councillors we are involved in setting pay terms and conditions for local government employees, so as members of the same scheme how could there be no conflict of interests about how it should be managed; especially now when there is a significant review of public sector pensions underway and changes are likely.
“The people of this Borough are finding it difficult enough to make ends meet in the current financial climate where jobs are hard to find and budget cuts are being made to public services. The last thing the ratepayer wants is to be funding pensions for local councillors when there is absolutely no need for them.”
Cllr Lawther continues: “It is amazing that when there has been such trouble finding savings for the Northern Ireland budget that Minister Poots has put forward proposals that will cost ratepayers across Northern Ireland close to one million pounds. My figures show Antrim ratepayers alone will be asked to find around £20,000 to £30,000 to fund pensions for our 19 councillors. If Minister Poots believes councillors deserve pensions why does he not believe they could have delivered the reform of local government? He has stopped RPA which could have delivered large savings across local government.”
Cllr Kelly added: “It was deeply ironic that our objections to the pension proposals were supported by the local DUP party, yet proposed by a DUP minister.”