The ruling Conservative group have voted for a pay rise for all councillors which will cost cash-strapped Peterborough City Council £186,000 a year.
In a shock move, Conservative councillors last night (Wednesday, October 12) voted through the recommendations made by an independent panel for members to have their basic allowances increased from £7,962 a year to £10,100.
Opposition councillors voted against the large pay rise and instead tried to agree a deal for their allowances to rise at the same rate as council officers’ pay, but that was voted down by the Conservatives.
Last year, the council had to make savings of £24 million after its government grant was slashed again.
Councillor John Holdich, whose salary as council leader will increase from £21,497.85 to £30,300, voted for the proposals despite telling the Peterborough Telegraph he would not do so.
He said: “It was my personal view I gave you, but that’s not the group’s view.”
Asked if he was still against the pay rise, despite voting for it, he answered: “Personally, yes.”
Councillors have not had a pay rise since 2009, and deputy leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, whose salary will rise from £16,123 to £20,201, said: “The panel have determined what our value is as councillors.
“For those who voted against it, how many are taking the extra allowance? If they feel that strongly they should give the money back.”
The pay rise, which will also increase the money paid to members of the cabinet and committee chairs as they are classed as special responsibilities, will come into effect from April 2017.
Labour group leader Cllr Mohammed Jamil said: “I’m shocked they would vote en masse for a pay rise, especially when they are cutting £20 million from the budget.
“But I’m not surprised what this Tory group does.”
The Liberal Democrats were criticised for walking out of the meeting and therefore abstaining, as they did not believe they should have a say in their own pay.
Cllr Nick Sandford, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, defended his seven councillors. He said: “There was a strong case from the panel for members to get an increase to recruit good people as councillors. But the problem is the special responsibility allowance is directly linked to the basic allowance.
“I’ve been a committee chair and there’s no way the extra duties a committee chair does justifies a pay rise.
“Personally I will accept what the council has decided even though we did not have a part in deciding it.”
Cllr John Whitby, UKIP group leader, asked how the councillors who voted for the pay rise could look their constituents in the face.
Cllr Chris Ash, leader of the Peterborough Independent Forum, said: “That kind of pay rise in one lump does not look good. It does make me feel guilty about accepting it.
“I’m surprised the Lib Dems walked out because they were last year pushing for a full rise over four years.”
The council’s constitution specifies that the basic allowance paid to all councillors is to “cover all expenses and time incurred by a city councillor in carrying out his/her ordinary duties for the council.”
Cllr John Fox, Werrington First group leader said: “It’s the decision of the council and I’m not happy with it. I think we get paid enough, but I’m not going to turn it down and give it to charity because there are councillors getting this who do not work as hard.
“The fact is the Werrington First councillors at the meeting voted against this because we do not agree with it.”
Cllr Ed Murphy, Labour and Co-operative member, said: “Most of this will go to Conservatives. For example, the leader and cabinet member for education, who saw us come bottom in the whole of England in recent SATS results, voted to give himself a £10,000 increase despite telling the PT he would not be voting for this.
“This is shameful - the same councillors that let us down spending £1 million putting homeless people in the Travelodge and charged more council tax than the budget needed last year, have made many mistakes costing millions.
“No way should they give themselves such an excessive pay rise costing tens of thousands of pounds. I shall look for every opportunity to revoke this decision and actually reduce the amount of money being spent on special allowances to our failing councillors.”
Cllr Holdich added: “I think it’s appalling the Liberal Democrats walked out and abdicated their responsibility.”
The council leader said councillors are in the Town Hall “all day, every day.” He also said he would give some of his pay rise away to groups in his ward of Glinton and Castor and that the pay rise “sounds a lot, but after tax it’s not.”
The independent panel in making its recommendations noted that councillors who had been interviewed said the existing basic allowance appeared relatively low in relation to comparable councils.
The report noted that from the information that had been provided, councillors continued to spend at least 20 hours per week on council business. Members also said when interviewed that the time spent doing the role “had a detrimental effect on the number and range of people prepared to come forward to stand for election.”