WEST Berkshire councillors have voted to approve an increase in their own allowances of up to 16.5 per cent.
The motion was passed by a majority at the council’s annual meeting on Tuesday following the controversial proposals by an independent remuneration panel, and despite the council needing to make savings of £5.9m in 2015/16.
All the Conservative councillors present voted to pass the motion and the only opposition members – the three Liberal Democrats present – objected.
At the meeting, council leader Gordon Lundie (Con, Lambourn Valley) said of the raise: “It is always going to be challenging to introduce any increase to expenses paid to councillors, which is why an independent remuneration panel was formed so they can assess an appropriate level of compensation for the roles we do.
“Increasing allowances is not something that is easy to sell to the public, but they don’t always understand the jobs that we do.
“Being a councillor does not come without a cost, and it is only right we receive the appropriate level of compensation for it.
“A lot of work goes into being a councillor, particularly one in charge of a portfolio, and we all make sacrifices in terms of being away from our families.”
One of the UK’s largest trade unions, UNISON, has reacted with disappointment at the news and said: “We very much regret the impact that this decision will have on the morale of its members who, in sharp contrast to this award made to
councillors, have suffered an 18-per-cent real-terms pay cut since 2010.
“These are the same staff who have been subject to significant job losses since 2010, but who are expected to provide broadly similar levels of service.
“UNISON will continue to support its members in trying to maintain the provision of quality public services to local people, which remain under threat.”
Among the changes – which will come into effect from May 2016 – is an increase from £6,285 to £7,324 in the basic allowance for each of the 52 councillors – representing a total annual increase of £54,028.
Part of this will be offset by scrapping a £200 IT consumables allowance, which includes paper and print cartridges, and a £200 uplift on the basic allowance for broadband provision.
This will save £5,200 each year, according to the panel, as not all councillors claim for this expense.
Special responsibility allowances will also be increased, including for the chairman of the council, whose allowance would rise from £4,729 to £5,493, and the vice chairman from £606 to £1,099.
Both the leader of the council and deputy leader will see increases of £1,533 and £776 respectively.
The opposition will have their allowances cut – the leader of the main opposition seeing a drop from £8,379 to £7,324, and opposition spokesmen and women from £4,190 to £2,197.
West Berkshire councillor and member of the opposition, Liberal Democrat Lee Dillon, said in response: “I think the whole system of councillors voting for allowances is fundamentally wrong in my eyes and it helps to create that distrust in the public of politicians.
“It should be set by an independent body only, and councils should not set the level.”
But he added: “If we want to attract people from across society to stand as councillors and have to offer an increased level to do that, then it is the right thing to do.”