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Caerphilly Politics South Wales

New presiding member role is unnecessary and ‘more snouts in the trough’, critics say

Caerphilly County Borough Council offices in Tredomen (Pic: LDRS)

COUNCILLORS in Caerphilly are at odds over creating a new role of presiding member to chair meetings, earning nearly £28,000 a year.

The presiding member will take over that function from the mayor, who will instead carry out purely ceremonial duties on behalf of the council.

At a meeting on Thursday May 9, opposition councillors criticised the changes as unnecessary and expensive.

Cllr Lindsay Whittle, who leads the Plaid Cymru group, accused the council of introducing “more snouts in the trough” by creating the new role.

Cllr Lindsay Whittle (Pic: Caerphilly County Borough Council)

Fellow Plaid councillors Charlotte Bishop, Donna Cushing and Gary Enright also questioned the need for a presiding member.

Cllr Bishop said council meetings “already have a mayor doing the job” of chairing proceedings, and Cllr Cushing added that she “can’t understand why there’s a need for a presiding officer”.

Cllr Enright, meanwhile, asked how many other local authorities had adopted presiding member roles and for the “pros and cons” of the role.

Robert Tranter, the council’s monitoring officer, told him other councils such as Torfaen had made the same change.

Electing a presiding member for the duration of the current council term would mean continuity in the way meetings are chaired, and that person will “get better at chairing the longer they are in the job”.

Independent councillors also raised concerns about the new role.

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Cllr Bob Owen said the plan was a “sticking point” in an otherwise acceptable report on minor constitutional matters, and Cllr Nigel Dix said he “can’t see a point in this role being created” given wider financial pressures on the council.

But the council leader, Labour’s Sean Morgan, said the move would save money in the long run and would improve the chairing of meetings.

The new role will “leave the mayor free to act as the ceremonial head of the council” and even though the presiding member will receive a higher salary than a regular councillor, other changes – such as removing the salary increase for the deputy mayor – would mean Caerphilly Council will actually save “close to £100,000” over the next three years, Cllr Morgan added.

Cllr Sean Morgan (Pic: Caerphilly County Borough Council)

The majority of councillors voted in favour of creating the new role, and named Labour’s Colin Gordon as the presiding member, with party colleague Cllr Liz Aldworth his deputy.

Taking his new seat, Cllr Gordon suggested that he wanted to get on with the job rather than stand on ceremony, but did address Cllr Whittle’s “trough” remarks about the higher salary.

“All the time I’ve been a councillor, I’ve never claimed one penny in expenses,” Cllr Gordon said, adding that he had previously held higher-paid cabinet positions but left those for his own reasons.

“I am doing this because I think I can really make a difference,” he added.

Cllr Colin Gordon (Pic: Caerphilly County Borough Council)