Council leader defends allowances rise

THE leader of a cash-strapped council has defended his decision to vote himself a 22% rise in his allowance despite the authority facing a £1.2million budget shortfall.

THE leader of a cash-strapped council has defended his decision to vote himself a 22% rise in his allowance despite the authority facing a £1.2million budget shortfall.

Peter Austin, leader of Waveney District Council, last night claimed that without the inflation-busting award, his local authority would "slip behind" others.

He insisted the hike was cost-neutral because last year, councillors decided to award themselves a rise in line with inflation.

Independent remuneration panels sit each year to calculate the allowances that councillors should receive for fulfilling their duties. These recommendations are then voted on by the full council, who have the power to overturn the panel's decision.

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A survey conducted by the EADT as part of our War on Council Waste campaign revealed that most local authorities in the region were planning to keep rises in allowances down to a minimum for the next financial year.

Mid Suffolk District Council and Forest Heath District Council have decided to freeze payments at this year's levels in a bid to cut costs.

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But taxpayers in Waveney will next year see their elected representatives claiming rises seven times the rate of inflation in some cases.

The basic allowance for each Waveney councillor will next year be £3,000 – 8% more than the £2,778 they currently receive.

On top of that, Mr Austin, leader of the Tory-run authority will receive £7,500 – 22% more than this year's £6,150.

Mr Austin voted in favour of accepting the independent panel's recommendations when the full council met last week.

He said: "This had full cross-party support and because we didn't accept the figure that they recommended last year, we decided to accept the panel's view this time.

"It was felt that we would be falling behind other authorities if we didn't – this should be a cost neutral move because of last year's decision.

He added: "We are trying to find areas across the board to save money and keep any possible Council Tax rises down to a minimum."

At Essex County Council, its 79 members currently receive £8,900, but yesterday its leader, Lord Hanningfield, who claims a total of £40,050, refuted any suggestion that a freeze was being considered.

Colchester Borough Council's 60 councillors are awarded a basic allowance of £4,725 at the moment with its leader, Colin Sykes, receiving £17,725. The independent panel is yet to make its recommendations for next year, but it is thought increases will be in line with inflation.

In Tendring, district councillors are currently awarded £4,101 and Terry Allen, the Conservative leader claims an annual total of £16,404.

Braintree's district councillors are awarded much less and councillors currently receive a basic of £2,160 and its leader, David Finch, £8,506. Both are expected to rise by 3% next year.

Uttlesford's district councillors received £4,386 during this financial year with leader Alan Dean claiming allowances of £10,965. It is not yet known what next year's awards will be.

Suffolk County Council voted to award its 80 councillors £6,609 each for the current financial year, with leader Bryony Rudkin, claiming £22,020 in total. The independent remuneration panel has not yet set out its recommendations.

Struggling Mid-Suffolk District Council has decided to keep its allowances frozen at this year's level for next year. Its councillors receive £2,742 basic and its leader £8,571 in total. Its leader, Roger Saunders, who receives £8,571, confirmed the "money was simply not there" for an increase.

There was a similar picture at Forest Heath District Council with members there awarded £4,500 each for this year and its leader a total of £10,100.

Suffolk Coastal District Council awards its 55 councillors £2,484 and its leader, Ray Herring, £8,073 – it is not yet known what will happen next year.

The 43 Babergh district councillors claim £3,093 during this year and its most senior member, the chairman of strategy, receiving £9,279 in total. A spokesman for Babergh District Council insisted these rates were "well below" market levels.

Ipswich Borough Councils are set to vote themselves a 3% award when it meets tomorrow. They currently receive £3,280 and its leader, Peter Gardiner, £9,840 on top of that.

However, the rises for councillors at St Edmundsbury Borough Council are not yet known. They currently receive £4,500 each and its leader, John Griffiths, receives £13,500.

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