A 10 per cent hike in allowances for Norfolk County councillors will go ahead after a motion to reverse the proposal was overturned in a vote.
A total of 28 councillors voted to stop the allowances rise, but lost to 36 councillors who voted for the rise to go ahead with no one abstaining. Norfolk County councillors will see their allowances rise from £9,401 to £10,500.
This has been branded as ill-judged, ill-timed and insensitive. Let’s get down to brass tacks – it’s just wrong and today is chance to start putting it rightSteve Morphew
The vote came after heated debate in the council chamber.
Steve Morphew, Labour councillor for Catton Grove, started a petition to overturn the decision which generated reaction on social media.
Cllr Morphew said in the chamber: “Four weeks ago in this chamber, the leader of the council said that the increases in councillor’s allowances was fair. The uproar that contested decision has caused gives us clear response to the leader’s views from Norfolk.
“This is no longer a matter of fair and unfair, it is a matter of right and wrong. Norfolk is telling us the decision is wrong. Norfolk is telling us that, although there may be no good time to increase allowances, now is the wrong time.
He added councillors were “lining their own pockets” while funds for children centres, bus subsidies, gritting, road repairs, libraries and rising care charges were being cut.
“It isn’t just unfair, it is wrong,” he said. “This has been branded as ill-judged, ill-timed and insensitive. Let’s get down to brass tacks – it’s just wrong and today is chance to start putting it right.
“This isn’t about what councillors deserve or need. Those we represent have needs that they can’t afford to meet and we are not asking, we are requiring them to accept less or make do. Those who work for us have been required, not asked, to have their pay eroded over several years and are currently facing a pay offer of two per cent compared to the double-digit increases voted through to us in December.”
Daniel Roper, Liberal Democrat councillor for Hevingham and Spixworth – who seconded the motion for the allowances to be reversed – asked the chamber why councillors were seen as the ‘special case’ to receive the rise in allowances and added it made councillors look like ‘self-servatives’.
He said: “This issue reflects badly on the council, it reflects badly on individual councillors, it is offensive to staff after years of wage restraints and to the public after years of service reductions. This is about doing what is right.
“In December this council made the wrong decision and I urge you to think again today.”
Terry Jermy, Labour councillor for Thetford West, said: “There are many matters we discuss of significant importance here in the council chambers and not a word is spoken. All to often the public are not interested – you can’t say the same for this allowance issue.
“People have been commenting on the council meeting held in December. I think there is a huge opportunity it to demonstrate that we listen and are prepared to amend our approach.
“We should take public opinion into consideration and restore faith in this council.”
However, Mr Cliff Jordan, councillor for Yare and All Saints, argued allowances were only 90 per cent funded and the rise would only use money already set aside for councillors.
He also argued against councillors who suggested the money could be used for other causes.
“What we have got is a surplus on members’ allowances that could go to help members. What is wrong with helping members themselves?
“If the rise waits until 2019, on my calculations, it will be at 21 per cent. You need to look at the whole picture. This isn’t any extra cost on anybody, because it is already there in the budget. It is not a big increase on council tax.
“We need to work together to save £105 million. We have some really serious things to do, and to remunerate people properly, I don’t see anything wrong with what we have suggested.”
Brian Long, councillor for Fincham, commented councillors did not receive a pension or rights, and are not employees, instead getting allowances in lieu of the pay they could probably earn in a “different career or vocation”.
He added councillors who have to travel distances forsake more time and expense in regards to transport.
“Some councillors give up rather more than those councillors who live in close proximity to the city.
“Milage allowance doesn’t pay for running a car.”
Stuart Graham Dark, Conservative councillor for Dersingham, said: “We have a big budget balance that we are trying to get to grips with at the moment. We didn’t inherit a luxury liner sailing on smooth seas. All of us in this chamber are having to work very hard to get the budget balanced – that is a big commitment for all of us.
“I think I will be standing in front of the voters in years time on my track record on how good we’ve got the county voting, not the extra money from allowances.
“It is a massive increase, but in 2014 the Labour administration looked at this and weren’t happy with the remuneration panel at that time and sacked it, and that has lead to the situation we are in now.
“None of us didn’t want to start from here, and I feel it’s a bit rich for people to start criticising as though they didn’t have hand on this that has led us to this position.”