A £20,000 pay hike for metro mayor Dan Norris has been approved, but only after the three council leaders making the decision initially appeared to refuse.
It was one of a series of budget proposals approved at yet another disorganised West of England Combined Authority (WECA) committee, punctuated by adjournments and confusion as the region’s top politicians called a halt for half an hour and left the room to thrash out last-minute amendments before later requiring a second break.
Among the decisions was redirecting £384,000, destined for reserves, to rural bus services following a proposal at the meeting by South Gloucestershire Council leader Cllr Toby Savage.
Members also agreed a £1.5million rise in WECA’s staffing costs, up by about 20 per cent, along with a scheme to recruit more HGV drivers and next steps for tap-on, tap-off payments for bus passengers, the recent £540million transport settlement from the Government and the £50million WECA green recovery fund.
Mr Norris’s salary will go up by 30 per cent in total, £5,000 every year for the next four years, from £67,000 to £87,000 exceeding that of an MP, while the role of deputy mayor, which used to receive £13,000, will no longer be paid.
It was always likely to be a flashpoint following months of turbulence between the West of England mayor and the other WECA committee members Tory Cllr Savage, Bristol Labour mayor Marvin Rees and Bath & North East Somerset Council Lib Dem leader Cllr Kevin Guy.
After asking three times whether anyone would move the independent remuneration panel’s recommendations, only to be greeted by an awkward silence, Mr Norris, who had declared an interest and could not vote, said: “Okay, no movers, in that case it falls.”
At that point, Mr Rees, who received a £9,000 salary increase in 2020 via a similar panel’s advice, said: “If there’s an independent remuneration panel, I think we should just accept what they say,” adding that had been his position previously and he had to stick with that.
Cllr Guy agreed but Cllr Savage, who was deputy to former metro mayor Conservative Tim Bowles, including the period when the role was paid, from October 2019 to last May’s elections, abstained.
He said he was being consistent with a stance he took on a remuneration panel’s report in 2020, later clarifying that Mr Bowles had refused a subsequent pay increase during the pandemic, although this was not reported at the time because it is understood the recommendation was not made public.
Cllr Savage told BBC Radio Bristol before the meeting that WECA should be funding bus services, not politicians’ income rises.
He told the committee at Bath Guildhall on Friday, 28th January: “We need to be straining every sinew as a combined authority to maximise the resources available to support our local bus services.”
He said he was not satisfied that WECA was doing everything it could, including saving the No 5 and No 18 routes.
Cllr Guy said: “It’s really important we go out of our way to support local bus routes that are in jeopardy.”
Mr Norris said he and local cross-party MPs were already lobbying ministers for more funding for supported bus services because the situation was going to get “pretty bad” without more vital money, so the Government needed to do the “heavy lifting to get this sorted”.
Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter