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Allowance rise for councillors is approved

By Newsdesk Bury

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils are based at Endeavour House, in Ipswich. (2674089)
Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils are based at Endeavour House, in Ipswich. (2674089)

Proposals to award Mid Suffolk councillors an allowance rise upwards of 25 per cent have been given the green light – just days after Babergh decided the same.

Mid Suffolk District Council met on Thursday night where an increase on basic allowances – which are currently £4,000, but will now go up to £5,000 – was given the go ahead.

Plans to increase allowances for cabinet members with portfolios from £2,000 to £6,250 per year were also approved at Thursday’s meeting.

Green councillor Andrew Stringer said the move 'degrades democracy' – and 'appears grubby'.

The recommendation was put forward by the Independent Remuneration Panel, and looked at by a joint cross party group ahead of the vote.

Sixteen councillors voted for the allowance hike while 12 voted against.

Twelve councillors were not present at the meeting.

Mr Stringer said: "I have a bond and a promise I make about the people that elect me that trumps anything in this room, and that is that I will never vote for my own raise.

"I think it degrades democracy. It does happen in the House of Commons and it appears grubby. It’s in our hands not to have that happen."

Rachel Eburne, leader of the opposition, added: "We are not delivering in some key areas such as a five year land supply for the public, and this is something we need to focus on.

"I fear this could be seen as a reward for underachievement."

Concerns were raised that the vote was happening on councillors’ own allowances, when it could be deferred until after the election next year.

The level of the increase compared to those of council officers was also a concern raised.

Liberal Democrat leader Penny Otton added: "We hear time and time again that money is tight so is this the right time to increase the overall budget so highly?

"Staff have been subjected to a one per cent and two per cent rise over the past years, councillors should do the same."

But council leader Nick Gowrley defended the increase.

He highlighted that many had compared the percentage increase with that of council officers, but said: "I think this comparison is unfair and illogical.

"The lowest paid member of staff at Mid Suffolk gets £17,000 a year, members here haven’t had their allowance reviewed for over four years. I think it’s important to note this recommendation has been determined by the panel."

Babergh District Council approved the same allowance increases on Tuesday.

During Babergh's meeting, Labour’s Luke Cresswell put forward a motion to implement any changes from after the election in May next year to make sure that members were not voting on their own allowance, and said that the plans to reduce the number of councillors from May 2019 would mitigate against some of that cost.

But the proposal was voted down, and the initial plans were approved by 26 votes to eight.

Mr Cresswell said he was 'disappointed but not surprised', describing it as Conservatives out to 'fill their own pockets'.

He added: "We knew what we were getting when we stood for election.

"We are cutting services and increasing allowances, it is totally unjustifiable."

Several councillors voicing their discomfort at the figures pointed to pay rises of only two per cent for council officers as key, as well as a drive by the council to cut costs – particularly given the council tax increase.

Council leader John Ward pointed to the fact that the last allowance review was held four years ago in 2014, and said the increase reflected the additional work councillors now had to do.

He added: "It also, quite rightly in my view, remunerates those of us who have been working very, very hard over the past year."

Several councillors said it was "never the right time" to discuss an allowance increase, and that Babergh was well below average for the allowance it currently pays.

It was approved that no councillors would be entitled to claim more than two special responsibility allowances, and that it would be backdated to May 22, 2018.

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