Some 25 outgoing councillors are to share in a £396,000 severance jackpot – even though they may remain in post until next year.
The total amounts to an average golden handshake of £15,840 each, but the actual sums being paid out are based on individual length of service. They are believed to include four councillors who doubled up as Assembly members and between them — as the Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this year — will receive almost £75,000.
But Stormont Minister Mark H Durkan, whose department is responsible for the severance scheme, has refused to reveal the identities of the elected representatives involved.
A statement said that, even though the Department of Environment finances the payments, it is up to local councils to disclose the names of the recipients. The payments are available to councillors who are currently in post but who will not be taking up a seat in one of the new super councils.
This includes those who decided not to run in the recent election — and those who did but were unsuccessful.
Yesterday the DoE confirmed: “Twenty five councillors have availed of the severance scheme to date, with a total payment of £396,000 having been reimbursed to councils by the department.
“It is assumed that the majority of those councillors seeking severance will retire from service on March 31, 2015 when the new councils come into full operation.
“Payments of severance by the council can only be made on the date of resignation of the councillor or after and claims for reimbursement will, therefore, not be received until after a councillor’s resignation.”
Increased allowances for the 462 members of the 11 super councils which began meeting this week will not kick in until they take over from the current 26 local authorities. Instead the new merged councils can decide if they want to remunerate their Presiding Councils and Deputy, along with committee chairs. They are not allowed to appoint Mayors until they go ‘live’ next April.
A DOE spokesperson said: “Decisions on special responsibility allowance (SRA) payments for positions of responsibility, are at the
discretion of the councils although there are departmental guidelines dependent on the populations of the new council areas.”
A recommendation that the new councillors should receive half of the increase in allowances during their ‘shadow’ year has not been taken up by Mr Durkan.
When the new 11 councils take over next year, councillors will receive an annual rise of almost £4,500 in their basic allowances.
Members of the 26 councils which are in their final years get a basic allowance of £9,835 a year.
From April, this will to rise to £14,200 to “fairly compensate councillors” for increased roles and responsibilities” which include community planning, Mr Durkan added.
Travel and subsistence allowances stay the same, however, and decisions on special responsibility allowance payments for positions of responsibility, such as chairs and mayors, “will remain at the discretion of the councils.