Response to the party consultation on tithing

Letter from Councillor Alan Connett to Councillor Tim Pickstone, 26 October 2021

To: Councillor Tim Pickstone
Unit 2.07 Boat Shed
16 Exchange Quay
Salford M5 3EQ

26 October 2021

Dear Tim,

I am writing to invite you in my capacity as Group Whip of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association, on behalf of the group’s leadership team.

Please find attached a full response from the group as a response to the party consultation on tithing. In this letter, I will outline the headline concerns.

Our concerns around universal tithing are largely based on the lack of consideration for the circumstances of individual councillors. Our party is taking positive steps forwards to bring down barriers to political participation that have long stood in the way of several groups of people, we worry that the introduction of mandatory universal tithing threatens to undermines this work – a one size fits all approach is rarely the correct approach.

1. Since the Coalition Government abolished the opportunity for councillors to be part of the Local Government Pension Scheme, councillors concerned about their longer-term financial wellbeing have had to make their own private pension arrangements. Applying a tithe of 10 per cent on the gross of allowances paid is therefore effectively a tax on the pension contribution. The LGA Group believes that the tithing agreement should not penalise or be a disincentive to councillors contributing to a pension.

2. We are opposed to the proposed introduction of the ‘household income’ test. The proposed policy does nothing to respect financial independence, and it assumes that household income is ‘pooled’. The policy would create friction in household relationships, and ultimately deter people in hardship from asking for relief, owing to the high bar of proof that would be needed to demonstrate such hardship – and that is assuming that household members, some of which may not even be members of the party, do not decline to disclose their income in the first place.

3. Clear advice is required from the party on the PPERA implications of tithes/contributions paid by individual councillors direct to Constituency Parties. Councillors in receipt of Special Responsibility Allowances in addition to their Basic Allowance may well be tithing (donating) at a level which, if it was a single annual contribution, would need to be declared.

As we understand it, Council Groups are not accountable bodies for PPERA and contributions from Groups to the relevant Constituency Party are individually anonymous.

4. We believe that the tithing policy should differentiate between the Basic Allowance all councillors receive and Special Responsibility Allowances. The LGA Councillors’ Census Report of 2018 shows that just 26 per cent of councillors were in full or part time work. If we are to achieve a better balance and more diverse range of councillors, we need to attract and retain those of working age. Those who take on a special responsibility are very likely to reduce their work commitment, with the SRA replacing that lost salary. Unlike in employment, there is no exit payment or redundancy support when the additional role comes to an end. The only cushion is what the councillor has been able to save for a ‘rainy day’ alongside any pension contributions they have made. Therefore, implementing a flat 10% for both basic and special responsibility allowances will have a far greater impact on those of working age or from poorer financial backgrounds and discourages these people from taking on more senior roles. The LGA Group recommends a lower contribution is applied to Special Responsibility Allowances.

I hope these recommendations are taken into consideration. The LGA Leadership Team are happy to consult further to ensure a positive outcome for local parties, campaigners, and our councillors across the country – please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Kind Regards,

Councillor Alan Connett
Group Whip
LGA Liberal Democrat Group
18 Smith Square
London, SW1P 3HZ