‘Cynical and sleazy’: Fury over councillor expenses

Conservative finger-pointing has triggered bitter clashes over the toxic issue of politicians' expenses.

The communities and local government select committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Clive Betts, recommended in a report published today councillors need a larger allowance to do their jobs properly.

Its report – approved on a cross-party basis – found employed people and those with families are especially deterred from standing as councillors by the low expenses.

But it came under attack from Tory party co-chairman Grant Shapps, who said the report was a "cynical and sleazy" attempt to benefit Labour.

He said Labour rules meant the party takes a cut of taxpayer-funded expenses paid to councillors.

"Local taxpayers will be shocked to learn that the Labour party will be quids in from Labour demands for more taxpayers' money on councillor allowances," Shapps said.

Betts rejected the claims outright, saying his committee's inquiry found politicians achieve more when they "work together to get a wider range of people to stand for election".

He added: "We also found that people are put off by shallow political point scoring, which makes the response… all the more disappointing"

Labour's vice-chair Michael Dugher went further, accusing Shapps of "hypocrisy" unless Conservative members of the committee disowned their own report.

"Just this week Tory councillors on Walsall council voted to increase their allowances," he said.

"Will Grant Shapps now call on Conservative councillors to give back their allowances?"

The original report said ordinary people considering standing for election as councillors were put off by the time commitment, difficulties with their employers and the low expenses involved.

It recommended that political parties and local authorities put in measures to support councillors.

MPs also recommended that the Local Government Association expand its 'Be A Councillor' programme.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell welcomed the support of MPs, but warned finding "inspirational leadership for the future" remains a challenge.

"Councillors do an incredibly difficult job and so it's really encouraging to see the select committee recognising the need to give them the support and training they require to lead public services from the frontline," he commented.

"Under the Localism Act, councils have been given new powers, but to make the most of these, local government relies on the energy, effectiveness and relevance of those elected to run it."