A controversial rise in the allowances for Peterborough city councillors came into effect last Saturday, and despite widespread opposition to the pay increase none of the elected members have said they are planning to hand the extra money back.
The Peterborough Telegraph emailed all 59 councillors last Thursday asking if they would accept the near 27 per cent pay rise which was agreed last October.
And of the 10 councillors who replied none said they would turn down the extra money. This was despite opposition groups angrily opposing the rise in allowances voted through by the ruling Conservatives, with the Lib Dems abstaining.
Three councillors who replied to the PT’s email said the extra money would be spent on good causes while another said she could now work part-time, freeing her up to spend more time as a councillor.
Councillors said they are taxed on their allowances, while council deputy leader Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald pointed out that the extra money had been recommended by an independent panel and that allowances had been frozen since 2009.
He added: “As for those that did not vote for it or made out they did not want it, they should give it back to the council or donate it to a local worthy cause.”
The rise in allowances will cost the cash-strapped council - which has put up council tax by five per cent - £186,000 more a year.
Basic allowances have increased from £7,962 a year to £10,100, while special responsibility allowances have also increased. Council leader Cllr John Holdich has seen his salary increase from £21,497.85 to £30,300, on top of his rise in the basic allowance.
The Conservative politician was recently named in an article in The Sun which referred to “shameless councillors” cashing in despite council tax going up.
Cllr Holdich said councillors have now lost their telephone, internet and travel allowances. He added: “The Sun used the headline without giving the complete story.”
A council spokeswoman said councillors can decline to take their full allowance.
Last month Labour councillors attempted to overturn the pay rises at a meeting of the full council but this was voted down. Cambridgeshire county councillors receive an annual allowance of £7,700.
The responses from councillors
Responses from councillors to the PT’s email asking if they will take the extra allowances:
Bella Saltmarsh, Liberal Party member for Dogsthorpe: “I will be accepting the rise but will donate to causes in my ward firstly and then to other city based charities if there is any left over.”
Kim Aitken, Conservative member for Orton Waterville: “Yes I will be accepting the rise. The additional allowance has allowed me to change my working hours. I now work part-time and can carry out my duties as a councillor in the afternoon as well as the evening.
“I consider myself privileged to be a councillor but unfortunately can’t give up work entirely as some can. Hopefully your readers agree that having younger members on the council is good (I am 48) where as a lot of members are older.”
Darren Fower, Liberal Democrat member for Gunthorpe: “Yes I will be.”
Richard Ferris, Labour member for Park ward: “Many months it actually costs me money to be a councillor.
“Any increase - which we have to receive - will be spent in much the same way, enabling me to pay for community skips, leaflets, newsletters etc to benefit local residents.”
Chris Ash, Liberal Party member for Dogsthorpe: “In fairness allowances have not increased for some time. The recommendations were made by an independent body and I believe the amount received is pretty much in line with other authorities.
“That said the large increase is nonetheless a substantial amount at a time of cuts and does not look good.
“I am afraid I can’t answer your question for the simple reason I have still to decide the best way to handle it.”
Cllr Ash added in a second email: “I did tentatively raise the issue with a senior council officer a while ago and I must and will pursue that discussion further and sort the best way forward.”
Ann Sylvester, Labour member for Bretton: “I have been donating all bar necessary expenses since being elected.”
Wayne Fitzgerald, Conservative member for West ward: “I voted to accept the independent panel’s recommendations on members allowances, so yes I shall be accepting the increase.
“It is worth noting that these allowances have been frozen for at least seven years, and if we keep ignoring the panel’s recommendations the gap will just keep getting bigger every year.
“As for those that did not vote for it or made out they did not want it, they should give it back to the council or donate it to a local worthy cause. It will be hypocritical of them to do anything else. Let’s see who actually does so.”
Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat member for Paston and Walton: “The Lib Dem group took the view that we do not believe councillors should be deciding how much we are paid. I think this is a good principle and I hope the Government might change the legislation to take the decision out of our hands.
“Personally, now that the issue has been decided I shall as I have always done accept the payment that is offered for the work which I do as a councillor.”
John Shearman, Labour member for Park ward: “I will continue to use my allowance solely for expenses associated with my role as councillor for Park ward.
“Since first being elected in 2011 my expenses have each year exceeded the allowance which is subject to taxation.”
June Bull, Conservative member for Orton Longueville: “I will be accepting but increasing my giving to my church - Peterborough Parish Church, St John the Baptist which is a registered charity.”