Pay rise condemned as an ‘insult’ to taxpayers
COUNTY councillors have voted themselves a 15 per cent pay rise against the advice of an independent remuneration panel. It makes them the highest-paid councillors in the country.
The increase is worth an extra £1,920 each a year for the 81 members, who have had their basic allowance frozen since 2008, when they received £12,800. They will now receive £14,720 a year for what is considered to be a part-time job.Â The 15 per cent jump will cost taxpayers £244,700 per year.
The independent panel recommended a modest 1.5 per cent increase that would have pushed the basic allowance up to £13,000. The council doesn’t have to accept the recommendation and in the meeting they chose not to. Â
Cllr Rob Bird, Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, 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.”
However, Council Leader Paul Carter, who pushed through the new deal, said: “I do not think the increase is in any way unreasonable. Why should we have to tolerate a [pay] freeze?”
Speaking to a divided Council Chamber at County Hall before the vote on Thursday [July 13], Cllr Carter argued that members had been ‘extremely restrained’ in tolerating a freeze since 2008, and had saved the authority £1.5million over the past eight years.
In addition to the pay rise, members with additional responsibilities will receive extra payments.
For example, Cllr Carter received £38,600 on top of his basic allowance for the period April 2016 to February this year. He also claimed £2,100 in expenses, meaning he took £52,400 in total.
After these changes, he will receive £57,000 plus expenses.
On hearing of the pay rise, Tonbridge & Malling Conservative borough councillor Ben Walker tweeted: “An insult to Kent Taxpayers. The sooner we abolish idle Kent County Council & establish Unitary Authorities the better. Appalling.
“This could have been used to develop our local highways which exceed their capacity & blight the lives of residents.”
James Price, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers have every right to be angry at this huge above-inflation rise.
“Despite Kent County Council pleading poverty and raising council tax this year, someone found this extra money down the back of the sofa – against independent advice – to line their own pockets.”
Tonbridge County Councillor Richard Long, who voted for the increase, said he regretted the timing of the vote as it came just after a recent election, but said he hoped public perceptions would not be changed.
“Whether or not there is a backlash depends on whether people believe councillors deserve to be paid reasonably for the work we do. I think we do.
“I have now given up most of my work outside the council, as a solicitor, and I will receive much less this year than I did last year. Councillors are not paid a lot for the hours most of us put in and this increase comes after a voluntary freeze on our pay for eight years.”
The County Council Labour group Leader, Cllr Dara Farrell, said: “I simply couldn’t look my neighbours and the residents I represent in the eye if I’d voted for a pay rise just three months after being elected. I’m astonished that members of the County Council vote on their own pay. It doesn’t happen in any other sector of society.”
But the authority pointed out that in addition to the freeze, councillors voluntarily took a cut of 1.5 per cent in their basic remuneration and a 5.4 per cent cut for those with special responsibilities in 2009, which remained in place until they were abolished last week.
Tonbridge’s other councillor, Michael Payne, said he was at a meeting of Gatwick Airport’s Consultative Committee and therefore was not present for the meeting.
The Times contacted the five county councillors who represent Tunbridge Wells divisions for comment. At the time of going to press, none of them had responded.
Independent remuneration panel
Allowances are set by the Member Remuneration Panel, made up of three people independent of the council.
They recommended a modest 1.5 per cent increase that would have pushed the basic allowance up to £13,000. The council doesn’t have to accept the recommendation and in the meeting they chose not to. Â According to Cllr Long they were ‘not convinced’ by the panel’s thoroughness and their review ‘clearly had out of date information’.
KCC spent £1.7million last year on councillors’ allowances and expenses but with last week’s vote it will rise to at least £2milli0n.
Kent members are the best paid at £14,700. Second is County Durham at £13,300 with Nottinghamshire third at £13,200. East Sussex is seventh, with their councillors receiving £11,200.
The KCC Budget
In total, KCC have budgeted a gross expenditure of £2.15billion this financial year. Most of this income is derived from charges and specific Government grants.
However, £887.9 million is net expenditure and has to be raised through council tax, local retention of business rates and un-ring-fenced government grants. This year’s budget saw a £23million cut to services as the authority suffers from the squeeze on public spending from central government.