Tunbridge Wells County Councillors branded ‘selfish’ after pay rise vote


It means taxpayers now pay more than £1.3million to fund County Hall Councillors.

Last month at KCC’s Annual Meeting, held virtually, Councillors overwhelmingly voted to approve a new allowance scheme that sees all members receive an extra 4.2 per cent.

The vote on June 17 came during the Covid-19 lockdown, which has seen 70 per cent of businesses in the county furlough staff, with many employees having to survive on 80 per cent pay.

Around 2,500 people in Tunbridge Wells have lost their jobs during the crisis.

The pay rise has been greeted with dismay from local taxpayers.

Scores of people took to social media to complain about the decision which they branded ‘obscene’ ‘shameful’ and ‘money grabbing’.

Patrick McKay on Facebook said: “Is it any wonder politicians are held in such low esteem?”

While Diane Gibb added: “While everybody else is suffering from minute or non-existent wages these people vote themselves another pay rise!”

And Hayley Louise Chowdhury branded the Councillors ‘Outrageous, selfish and inconsiderate’.

The vote means Councillors at County Hall will see their annual allowance rise from £15,561.94 to £16,217.00.

Cabinet members receive even more cash. KCC’s leader, Roger Gough will see his allowance rise from £66,000 to £70,000.

Councillors can also claim expenses such as taxi-fares, petrol mileage and parking costs – in total, taxpayers now pay around £1.3million to fund the elected representatives.

However, the authority is facing at least a £50million ‘black hole’ in its finances over the next 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it expects to increase Council Tax and cut services.

The cash-strapped authority says the rise in members’ allowances was originally formulated in July 2017 and is linked to KCC staff pay.

But following the backlash to the controversial vote, three Councillors wrote to KCC’s head of governance to ask for the extra funds to be kept back.

They are Conservative Emma Dawson who represents Birchington, Barry Lewis for Margate and fellow Labour Councillor Karen Constantine for Ramsgate.

Cllr Dawson said: “The fundamental reason behind me rejecting my new increase is that I am certainly aware of the current times.

“During the pandemic, many families have been finding it difficult and will be hit hard with job losses, loss of businesses and furloughed on a reduced salary, some may not even be taken back into work.

“Many are struggling to meet their household bill payments. The economy is at a critical low point which will require time, effort and resilience to dig our way out of the huge hole.”

All six Councillors that represent Tunbridge Wells were approached more than once by the Times for comment on whether they too would send back the pay increase. Only one responded.

Cllr Sean Holden said that the purpose of the vote was to ‘change the scheme’s structure’ and not specifically to put up Councillor pay.

He added: “We stopped doing that in 2017 by index linking Councillors’ allowances to KCC staff pay; Councillors having had no increase for eight years. I was irked to see it brought, needlessly, to the agenda because I knew it would be misleading and people would think, wrongly, we were again setting our own pay.”

He continued: “I know some people think County Councillors shouldn’t be paid anything at all, but I disagree with them. There is a cost to democracy, and I think we should treat those democrats who serve our communities fairly.”

Cllr Holden also asked whether journalists ‘would be offering a voluntary pay cut as some kind of solidarity gesture?’ – all staff at the Times have taken a 50 per cent voluntary pay cut since the pandemic began in March.

None of the other Councillors that represent Tunbridge Wells at KCC responded.

They include Paul Barrington-King [Tunbridge Wells East] and Sarah Hamilton [Tunbridge Wells Rural] who now not only receive £16,217.00 in allowances for being KCC representatives, they, along with Cllr Holden, are also Borough Councillors so are in receipt of an additional £5,500 in allowances from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

Deputy Leader of KCC Peter Oakford, who represents Tunbridge Wells North, has seen his pay increase to £50,881.16.

While James McInroy [Tunbridge Wells West] and Catherine Rankin [Tunbridge Wells South] are both deputy Cabinet members so could be eligible for an additional £15,998.88 on top of their basic Councillor allowance of £16,217.00.

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