Labour councillor makes case for parental leave for Herts County councillors
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LABOUR councillor Tina Bhartwas has called for maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave to be made available to county councillors.
Currently, elected officials have no automatic legal right to parental leave.
But Cllr Bhartwas believes Hertfordshire County Council should be one of the growing number of councils to adopt a parental leave policy for elected members.
She believes it would be a step towards encouraging a wider range of people to consider standing for election.
And she says it may then encourage councillors to remain on the county council after starting a family.
“Essentially, improved provision for new parents will contribute towards increasing the diversity of our councillors,” she told a meeting of the county council’s standards committee on Tuesday (May 9).
“And I am sure that we all believe that the role of the councillor should be open to everybody, regardless of their background or life circumstances.
“While members will note that parental leave is not provided in law to councillors, this is something we can choose to do as an authority to encourage greater inclusivity. And many authorities of all political colours have done.”
Cllr Bhartwas’ focussed on a model policy published on the Local Government Association’s website.
That policy outlines the period of leave that could be taken by councillors if it were to be adopted by the council, with councillors being entitled to their basic allowance and any special responsibility allowances for up to six months.
It also states that where another councillor is appointed to cover the absence, that councillor should receive the special responsibility allowance.
Following debate at the committee, the matter will now be referred to the council’s independent review panel (IRP), which is responsible for councillors’ allowances and benefits.
But ultimately a decision on whether to adopt a parental leave policy would have to be taken by a meeting of the full county council.
Labour Cllr Nigel Bell said that adopting the policy put forward by Cllr Bhartwas – as set out by the Local Government Association – would bring the council in line with best practice.
He said he ‘fully supported’ the move and hoped that after review by the council’s IRP it would be adopted by the county council
Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Jarvis suggested it ‘would not be unreasonable’ for the county council to follow the LGA model – or to use it as a ‘good starting position’.
Meanwhile Conservative Cllr David Andrews – who said there was ‘a lot here to like’ and proposed the matter was referred to the IRP – pointed to existing provision for councillors not to attend meetings, for a reason approved by the authority.
But with regard to payments, he drew a distinction between ‘salaries’ paid to employees, and ‘allowances’ made to councillors.
Conservative Cllr Sunny Thusu also stressed that – unlike salaries paid by an employer – councillors’ allowances were paid by the electorate.
And he suggested that most councils who had adopted the LGA policy were borough councils – where there were two additional councillors in a single ward to pick up the work.
In the county council there is just one county councillor per division.
He also suggested that if the idea was to bring in more councillors of working age with children, maternity or paternity leave seemed ‘an odd place to start’.
Also expressing some concerns was standards committee chairman Cllr Ken Crofton.
“I do have issues with this because we are not salaried, we are elected to serve our public,” he said.
“And I can’t help but think that to abandon your division for whatever reason – for very good reasons possibly in some cases – would be a bad reflection on this council.
” [. . . ] We do have an allowance and I can’t see how – if this ever was approved – how if you actually take six months or potentially 12 months off how the allowance would be warranted.
“That should in my opinion stop, because it is not a salary. You are there to serve the public and if you are not serving the public you are not entitled to the money.”
Following the meeting, the LGA policy – and the views expressed by members of the standards committee – will be passed to the IRP.
Any recommendations made by the IRP report will then be passed to a meeting of the full county council for consideration.