Anger at 15% hike in al­lowances for county coun­cil­lors

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Helping Others - By Paul Fran­cis

County coun­cil­lors have voted them­selves a stag­ger­ing 15% in­crease in their al­lowances.

The in­crease was put for­ward at a full coun­cil meet­ing and ig­nores the rec­om­men­da­tions of an in­de­pen­dent panel, which has the job of propos­ing what coun­cil­lors should be el­i­gi­ble for.

That panel pro­posed that the au­thor­ity’s 81 mem­bers should ac­cept a 1.5% in­crease in their ba­sic al­lowance, which would mean a rise to £13,000 from £12,805.

That in­crease would re­store the al­lowance to the level it was in 2009.

But Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil leader Paul Carter de­fended the huge in­crease by ar­gu­ing that mem­bers had not had any in­crease in their al­lowances since 2008.

Cllr Carter said: “Seven years ago we re­duced spe­cial al­lowances. We have in­creased staff pay by 18%. I do not think the in­crease is any way un­rea­son­able.

“Why should we have to tol­er­ate a freeze? It has not re­flected the cost of liv­ing in­crease ev­ery­one else has had.”

A 15% rise on the ba­sic al­lowance is worth an ex­tra £1,920. It is thought how­ever that the 15% in­crease will also ap­ply to those with so-called spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity al­lowances, in­clud­ing cab­i­net mem­bers who cur­rently get £27,371.

The move has pro­voked a fu­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal row and it is un­der­stood that not all Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lors agree with the in­crease.

The bill for al­lowances paid to all coun­cil­lors in 2015-16 was £1,640,855 but with travel costs added came to £1,767,838.

Speak­ing ahead of the meet­ing, the leader of the Lib­eral Demo­crat op­po­si­tion group Cllr Rob Bird said: “Coun­cil­lors put them­selves for­ward for elec­tion in May know­ing the level of al­lowances they could ex­pect. It is not ac­cept­able for coun­cil­lors to vote through a sub­stan­tial in­crease in their al­lowances within a cou­ple of months of com­ing into of­fice.”

Labour’s Barry Lewis said: “We got voted in know­ing what our al­lowances would be, who is go­ing to pay? It will be the res­i­dents and hard-work­ing fam­i­lies. It is a sham. I will only vote for this if work­ers get 15%. It is one rule for mem­bers and one for work­ers.”

Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) said: “I am as­ton­ished. There is a good rea­son we have an in­de­pen­dent panel.”

Labour Cllr Tam Dhesi added:

‘I do not think the in­crease is any way un­rea­son­able’

“The only word I can think of is ‘pre­pos­ter­ous’ if we vote this through it will be seen as noth­ing less than hav­ing our snouts in the trough.”

Cllr Karen Con­stan­tine, who also rep­re­sents Labour, said: “We will be seen as fat cats and that is un­for­tu­nate. Is this de­bate about achiev­ing di­ver­sity and equal­ity or just thinly dis­guised greed?”

Mean­while Con­ser­va­tive Cllr Paul Cooper said: “There has been no in­crease for eight years. Over that time staff have re­ceived an 18% in­crease, we should have the same.”

Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con) says it was a mis­take not to in­dex-link al­lowances back in 2008.

He said:“I can­not sup­port the rise. Peo­ple of Kent will be as­ton­ished that we can set our own pay. They will not un­der­stand that we can set our own pay.”

County Hall, Maid­stone

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