Local authority Lewisham Council is planning to amend its scheme of allowances for council members, in order to facilitate a paid parental leave scheme.
In a council meeting held on Wednesday 24 July 2019, attending councillors approved the proposal that the allowances scheme for members be amended in order to accommodate paid parental leave.
The scheme provides a basic allowance, payable to all council members, as well as a special responsibilities allowance, paid to those who take on additional duties, such as chairing a committee. Other allowances include a dependant carers’ allowance and a travelling and subsistence allowance.
The proposed amendments aim to reduce workplace discrimination and the difficulties experienced by pregnant women and parents of young children, as well as eliminate barriers deterring individuals from being involved with local government; this aligns with a November 2018 report from the Barriers to Politics Working Group.
Currently, council members do not have access to a formal parental leave scheme; councillors are not classified as employees, therefore are subject to a different legal framework. Practice to date has been that councillors continue to receive their allocated allowances until they return to their duties, with no specified timeframe agreed.
Replacement maternity cover is not arranged for council members who are in receipt of the basic allowance; this cannot be obtained unless a council member resigns and an election is held. Fellow ward members can be called upon to cover councillors’ workloads, if required, during a period of parental leave.
A provision for formal parental leave would need to be added to the existing scheme of allowances in order to provide this support for councillors, while considering the recommendations of the London Councils Independent Remuneration Panel. This document states that special responsibility allowances should be continued in the cases of maternity and paternity leave.
Any new additions to the scheme of allowances would need to be made available for public inspection, and council members on leave would still be required to attend at least one council meeting over a six-month period, to avoid falling foul of a casual vacancy situation; this occurs when a councillor does not attend a council meeting for a consecutive six-month period, and results in their ceasing to retain their role.
Lewisham Council will now consider the implications of introducing a parental leave allowance; for example, if a councillor on parental leave is covered by a fellow member who does not receive a special responsibilities allowance, then there will be a financial cost to provide this additional allowance for the duration of leave. The Council will, however, seek to recover these monies from the government through statutory maternity pay.
Sophie Davis, Labour MP and councillor for the Forest Hill ward, who introduced the parental leave motion, said: “[I am] really proud that [Lewisham Council] has adopted a parental leave policy for councillors. [It is] so important to enable more women to serve as councillors and to ensure our borough is representative of the people it serves.”