Councillors agree allowance rise
MEMBERS of a Suffolk council agreed last night to increase their own allowances – but scaled back the rises for fear of enraging taxpayers.The increases for Suffolk Coastal district councillors – covering their basic allowances and a range of additional duties – fell some way short of the figures recommended in an independent report.
By Sarah Chambers
MEMBERS of a Suffolk council agreed last night to increase their own allowances – but scaled back the rises for fear of enraging taxpayers.
The increases for Suffolk Coastal district councillors – covering their basic allowances and a range of additional duties – fell some way short of the figures recommended in an independent report.
Council leader Ray Herring acknowledged they had to be sensitive to budgetary pressures and the concerns of taxpayers amid fears of another big hike in council tax bills in April.
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He described their compromise proposals as "a little bit of a half-way house".
The council agreed by a large majority to a 10.7% boost to their basic allowances, bringing them to £2,750 a year, instead of an independent panel recommendation to increase them by 20.8%, taking them to £3,000 a year.
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Cllr Herring argued their present allowances were low compared to other councils, and were "probably the lowest in Suffolk".
"It's something we need to address seriously," he said, saying it was important members were not left out of pocket through carrying out their duties
The council leader's increase was agreed at 2.2%, compared to a recommended 11.5%, taking his allowance to £8,250.
The most significant increase was for the council chairman, whose allowance will go up from £2,484 to £4,125 – an increase of 66%. This still fell short of the report's recommendation of 81%.
Cabinet members' increases were agreed at just under 48%, bringing them to £2,750 – again below the independent panel's recommended 61%.
The total package, which it was agreed should come into force in April next year, would cost around £38,000 extra, the council heard. This compared with a proposed increase of nearly £56,000 under the independent panel's proposals.
A Liberal Democrat amendment which proposed the rises should be linked to local government pay awards was defeated by the large Conservative majority on the council.
LibDem councillor John Kelso warned: "This is not the time for substantial increases. I don't think our local tax payers will put up with the increases."
Councillors decided that the issue of pensions for members, brought up in the report, should be looked at at some time in the future.
The Government issued new regulations and guidance about councillors' allowances earlier this year. They required that all local authorities review their allowances and implement new schemes by December 31, 2003.
After the meeting, Councillor Herring said the role of Cabinet members consumed "a lot of time" and they needed allowances to reflect that.
Meanwhile, the Conservative leader of Mid Suffolk District Council wants to vote to freeze councillors allowances next year – and possibly cut the expenses they receive for travelling.
Roger Saunders says the financial situation at the authority is desperate and councillors should share in the cutbacks.
The authority is already looking at losing 30 posts, introducing car-parking charges in to communities in mid Suffolk, and increasing council tax by 6%.
Now he wants to freeze councillors allowances – which normally enjoy an automatic rise every year – and reduce the amount they can claim for mileage.
Councillors, who receive allowances for being a councillor and extra for special responsibilities, deferred making a decision on allowances at an Executive Committee meeting this week, but will revisit the matter early next month.
Mr Saunders said: "There is a desperate financial situation at Mid Suffolk, we are having to reduce staffing levels, put council tax up more than we wanted to, and we felt members should make a gesture."