Price of Sheffield’s Lord Mayor revealed - is it too much?

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Ceremomial role costs Sheffield taxpayers £558 a day

THE role of the Lord Mayor has cost Sheffield taxpayers more than £1 million in the last five years, The Star can reveal exclusively today.

Foreign trips, a chauffeur, catering - and the Lord Mayor’s own luxury Jaguar XJ saloon car - all account for hundreds of thousands of pounds of spending each year.

The largely ceremonial post costs the taxpayer an average of £203,903 a year - or £558 a day.

Sheffield’s £1,019,515 five-year total compares with £877,249 spent on Manchester’s Lord Mayor over the same period and £811,739.53 in Bristol.

The current Lord Mayor is Coun Sylvia Dunkley. Most recent figures available, for her five predecessors, show the most expensive was Coun Jackie Drayton, who served during 2006/07.

The Labour member for Burngreave spent a total of £224,304 - including £43,107 on her chauffeur-driven car and £1,180 on a trip for herself and two colleagues to Sheffield’s twin city in China.

Another £54,148 went on hospitality, £73,128 on staff, and £12,653 on ‘miscellaneous expenses’.

The spending is revealed today as part of The Star’s Your Right To Know campaign, which aims to illuminate the hidden facts and figures that affect readers’ everyday lives.

The numbers show Graham Oxley, former Liberal Democrat member for East Ecclesfield, was the second highest-spending Mayor. As Sheffield’s first citizen in 2009/10 he spent £210,647 - £67,481 on staff, £20,890 on catering and £21,633 on hospitality.

The third highest was Coun Arthur Dunworth, Liberal Democrat member for Stannington, who in 2007/08 spent £205,294.

Coun Jane Bird, Labour member for Shiregreen and Brightside, got through £203,296 in 2008/09, and Coun Alan Law, Labour member for Firth Park, spent £175,976 of public funds in 2010/11.

Included in all the totals is an allowance paid to each Lord Mayor and their deputy - to cover clothing purchase and hire, and incidental expenses such as buying raffle tickets when attending events. Used in full by all five of the Mayors and their deputies, the allowance is limited to £7,524 and £1,180 respectively.

The Lord Mayor also has use of two official cars - a Jaguar XJ Sovereign bought for £40,483, and a Rover 75 which has been leased for the five years at a cost of £22,183.

Lord Mayors’ expenditure has already been subject to cost-cutting at other councils around the country.

In Leeds - where the role has cost taxpayers more than £1.5 million over five years - the position of deputy has been axed, as have official cars and a full-time chauffeur.

Manchester City Council is making savings on hospitality, and in Plymouth the Mayor’s engagements are being halved.

A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said the Lord Mayor’s office has already been subject to review and would be further reviewed as part of budget planning for the next financial year.

SHEFFIELD’S current Lord Mayor, Coun Sylvia Dunkley, today defended the importance of the role as an ambassador and figurehead for the city - and said savings have already been made in its running costs.

Details of her expenditure so far have not been revealed but, in 2010/11, her predecessor Coun Alan Law spent the least of any Lord Mayor since 2006.

Coun Dunkley said: “We have been trying to keep costs down, making savings on the budget, keeping the hospitality budget down. The amount we have to spend is quite small compared with other cities.”

Describing the importance of her role, the Liberal Democrat member for Ecclesall said: “There are a lot of people who value having a Lord Mayor. It’s useful when we have foreign visitors for them to be received by the Lord Mayor, and they are always pleased to be invited to the Mayor’s Parlour at the Town Hall.

“And a lot of what the Lord Mayor does is recognising the achievements of other people, whether it is someone who has reached their 100th birthday or a young person achieving something really good. Much of my time is spent attending awards ceremonies.

“A lot of people are interested in the chain of office and my consort says when I go into a room people’s eyes light up. The title has some romance to it - it’s different from the day-to-day work of the council.

“I will probably attend 1,000 engagements over my year and also raise funds for charity.”

A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said the Lord Mayor’s team had been reduced in number from three to two full-time staff and cuts have been made too to the hospitality and gifts budget.

She said: “The Lord Mayor plays a valuable role linking into the community and developing social cohesion. In addition to being an independent chairman for meetings of the council, it is also a traditional role linking the present day to the city’s history and identity.”

SPENDING on the role of the Lord Mayor of Sheffield is ‘irresponsible’, pressure groups claimed today - as opponents called for the perks of the job to be scaled back.

Matthew Reeve, from the Sheffield Right to Work Campaign, called the council’s priorities ‘shamefully wrong’.

He said: “Council workers, particularly those who have lost their jobs as a result of the Government’s ideological cuts, will be disappointed to learn their council tax is being spent on paying for a luxury car and a paid chauffeur for the Lord Mayor, among other perks, each year.

“The expenditure on the Lord Mayor’s office is an example of money being used irresponsibly. “We call on the council to redeploy the driver elsewhere within the council and for the remaining budget to be spent on a particular service that has been cut in recent months.”

Spending cuts critic Jon McClure, lead singer of Sheffield band Reverend and the Makers, said: “I don’t think so much money should be spent on having a Lord Mayor. The money should be used to protect council services, looking after folk.”

Former Sheffield Green Party Central ward member Bernard Little, who is standing as a candidate for Broomhill at the May council elections, said: “Civic mayors are a waste of money.

“We should be very careful with how budgets are used these days, and spending lots on having someone go around with a flashy gold chain should not be a priority.

“We have elected councillors who should be able to act as figureheads for the city, rather than a civic Lord Mayor.”

Coun Peter Price served as Sheffield’s 100th Lord Mayor between 1996 and 1997.

The Labour member for Shiregreen and Brightside said he thinks the office of Lord Mayor is important and ‘good value’, but conceded: “In the current times, you could look at bringing in some funding in the form of private sponsorship to help cover the costs.”

Robert Oxley, campaign manager of The TaxPayers’ Alliance, said a lot more should be done to cut down on costs.

He said: “Just like the rest of the council, the Lord Mayor needs to do their bit to find savings.

“Ending jaunts abroad, and turning in the keys to the chauffeur-driven Jag, would certainly help to save local taxpayers a packet.”

CHANGE could be on the cards if Sheffield residents vote in May’s referendum to have an elected Mayor to lead Sheffield Council as well as a civic Lord Mayor to fulfil the historic ceremonial office.

It has not yet been decided whether to make such a change in Sheffield, should the post of a political Mayor be established.

To avoid confusion between titles in Doncaster, the name of the civic office was changed from Mayor to chairman of council.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said councils can choose to retain a traditional Lord Mayor alongside the new post.

She said: “Civic mayors play an important role in their local communities.

“In those local authorities which already have a directly elected mayor, the elected mayor may carry out ceremonial functions or the local authority may choose to retain the office of the traditional ceremonial mayor.

“This is a matter of local choice, and there are no current plans to change these arrangements.”