Wisbech mayor Councillor Steve Tierney was a lone Tory voice yesterday (Tuesday) as the rest of his group at Cambridgeshire County Council voted to give themselves an immediate £2,382 a year pay rise - the equivalent of 30 per cent.
March councillor and council leader Steve Count issued a statement on the move shortly before yesterday’s council meeting where members discussed the issue of their pay and later defended the move saying the “figures are not as straight forward as they seem.”
An independent review panel (IRP) had recommended an 8.4 per cent increase in the rate of pay for councillors after finding Cambridgeshire County Council members’ allowances were the lowest of any upper tier county council in the country.
But Cllr Count said his group felt the IRP’s recommendations were not ‘statutorily compliant’ and did not reflect the changes in councillors’ workloads over the past two years.
The number of councillors has reduced from 69 to 61 which Cllr Count said meant heavier workloads for the remaining members which is why the Conservative group had recommended introducing allowances that were at the national average.
That means councillors will now receive a basic allowance of £10,315 (the UK average) up from the current £7,933 a year and nearly £2,000 more than the independent body was recommending.
However, Cllr Count said while the 30 per cent increase may appear to be a rise for many it was actually a cut because members with extra responsibilities will no longer receive additional payments.
“Some councillors received up to £6,000 on top of their basic allowance for additional duties which meant they have now seen their pay cut from over £15,000 to £10,315,” said Cllr Count.
Cllr Count said members spend on average between 20 and 30 hours a week on council business which means the average county councillor is now receiving just under £10 an hour - if they work 20 hours a week - which is way above the £7.50 minimum wage that many of their voters in Fenland are paid.
Cllr Count will now receive £31,745 a year - the independent body had recommended he receive £25,000 a £4,000 rise on his previous pay of £21,000. His deputy will receive £20,627.
But he said: “I have no qualms that I provide excellent value for money - I do 40 to 60 hours a week on council work - more than full time. Ask any council officer at Shire Hall and they will tell you I am value for money. Council work consumes my whole life, I choose to do it and I enjoy, but I certainly earn my allowance.
“And I would argue that almost all councillors give at least a third of their time for free even with the increase. We are trying to make it fair so that anyone who would like to be a councillor can afford to do so. If not you will just have rich grey haired people with deep pockets as no one else will be able to afford to give their time.”
But Cllr Tierney, who spoke against the motion, said: “I must point out that the three wards I represent; Medworth, Clarkson and Waterlees, are often noted as rating highly on the deprivation indices. Indeed, one of them rates highly not just in Cambridgeshire, but nationally.
“I cannot, in good conscience, look the residents of these wards who elected me in the eye, while voting myself a huge payrise.
“I wish to record my respect for any colleagues who hold a different view. I personally will not be voting in favour of any motion which involves giving myself a rise in my basic allowance. If any such rise is given to me today I will ask the residents of my ward to nominate a local charity each month and I will publicly give the extra money to that local cause.”