Labour councillors have been branded ‘hypocrites’ after they were accused of privately supporting a pay rise of nearly 27 per cent, despite campaigning against it.
A senior Conservative on Peterborough City Council rounded on his opponents during a feisty meeting last night (Wednesday, March 8) after he revealed minutes from a Labour group meeting which had been accidentally sent to all councillors.
The spat took place during a debate, prompted by Labour, to overturn a rise in councillor allowances which will cost the council an extra £186,000 a year.
But the party was left embarrassed when its own party minutes appeared to reveal that there is plenty of support within Labour for taking the extra £2,138 a year each.
The minutes were read out by Councillor David Seaton, cabinet member for resources, who was subsequently called “underhand” and “unpleasant” by his Labour opponents.
One councillor, Cllr Ed Murphy, even warned him that his actions might mean he was embarking on criminal behaviour.
Cllr Murphy, Labour and Co-operative member for Ravensthorpe, told the meeting of the full council: “We do not want to spend £175,000 on ourselves. It’s quite a lot of money.
“We could probably employ one or two security guards and a valet for every single homeless person in Peterborough.
“We suggest you use some of that money on adult social care. We are saying £175,000 is a shocking level of increase.”
Cllr Angus Ellis, Labour member for Bretton, said it was wrong for councillors to take a big allowance when wages were being pegged.
But Cllr Seaton accused Labour of saying one thing in public and another behind closed doors.
He said: “Let me remind you of some of the things that our Labour colleagues said in private. I believe it was Thursday, October 27 last year. Someone called AE (Cllr Ellis) said, ‘although we voted against, can we not take the increase?’.”
Cllr Ellis stood up to deny that he had ever said that, but Cllr Seaton replied: “I have the minutes of the Labour meeting here.”
He added: “They want to suspend standing orders so we can discuss allowances. But we know from this document that actually in private they say they want to take the allowances.”
Reading a list of points allegedly made in the Labour minutes, he added: “Defended the use of allowances by councillors on low income; pointed out that this was the first increase since 2009; all different councillors; suggested councillors do as they will - pocket it.”
Cllr Murphy intervening said: “If he’s reading from an email that was sent to people incorrectly, council emails have that thing at the bottom, ‘don’t use this email if you’re not supposed to be the recipient’.
“He’s got to be very, very careful what he’s doing is not only bad practice, but possibly criminal.”
Cllr Seaton replied: “Cllr Murphy says don’t take the money, he says it’s a shocking level of increase. And then when it comes to it in private, his whole group say ‘yes we will have it’. Well we will see in May whether you do.”
Cllr Richard Ferris, Labour member for Park ward, made an impassioned defence of his party. He said: “I believe Cllr Seaton has been both underhand and extremely unpleasant this evening referring to a confidential email sent out in error.
“I stand here embarrassed. I sent that out in error and politely asked people to ignore the fact it was sent in error, but no, you lot choose to make political gain out of it.
“We had a group discussion. Unlike your group, who obviously look like lemmings, we had a discussion. We have different views then we come to a consensus.”
Cllr Marco Cereste, Conservative member for Hampton Vale, asked Cllr Ferris to apologise and retract his statement.
Cllr Ferris went on: “I would like to apologise to any lemmings who have been offended because they’re eminently more likeable than Conservative councillors.”
In response to an earlier point from Cllr Murphy that Cllr Seaton was “moving onto very dangerous territory talking about leaked documents,” Cllr Gavin Elsey, Conservative member for Orton Waterville, stated: “It wasn’t leaked, it was distributed to every member of the council.”
Cllr Seaton also defended his decision to quote from the minutes. He said: “I have only raised it tonight because of the hypocrisy of the Labour group.”
The cabinet member also showed his disregard to the Liberal Democrats, stating that they “bottled it” for walking out of the meeting last October where councillors voted on whether to approve the pay rises.
Cllr Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat group leader and member for Paston and Walton, said: “The clear view of the Liberal Democrats that we took in October is that this is something councillors should not be deciding.
“The thing that looks bad to the public is when they see councillors voting through a pay increase.”
Cllr John Whitby, UKIP group leader and member for Fletton and Stanground, said: “We voted on our side against the increase. I felt that while we’ve had very low wage growth in Peterborough, while we have increases both in direct local taxation and indirect, I did not think it was appropriate that we should increase our allowances. I still hold that view.”
The rise in allowances was recommended by an independent panel and voted through by the Conservatives, who are in the majority on the council, in the face of widespread opposition.
The changes will see basic allowances increase from £7,962 a year to £10,100, a rise of nearly 27 per cent.
Allowances for special responsibilities, such as being a cabinet member or scrutiny committee chair, will also increase.
The £186,000 rise in allowances is part of the council’s budget proposals which were approved last night (Wednesday, March 8).
Labour’s motion was to overturn that and allow for a new debate, but it was defeated by 30 votes to 16, with the Liberal Democrats again abstaining.