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Newbury Green Party spar with council over pay rise

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West Berkshire Council challenged on 16.5% allowances rise in wake of £10.8m cuts

THE Newbury Green Party has written directly to each of the 48 Conservative councillors that sit on West Berkshire Council, challenging them to justify awarding themselves a 16.5 per cent pay rise in May alongside proposed cuts to public services.

The challenge is in response to the council’s decision to agree an increase in their allowances recommended by an independent remuneration panel from £6,186 a year to £7,324 a year – representing an increase of 16.5 per cent.

The letter asks each councilor: “How do you reconcile taking such a large increase in councillor’s allowances with cutting vital services to vulnerable people?”

“Just a few months after the election we find you and your fellow members of the council’s ruling Conservative group are proposing a series of cuts that will have a devastating effect on some of the most vulnerable people in West Berkshire.

“The proposals include halving support to the mental health support living scheme, closing an elderly people’s care home, shutting four children’s centres, and isolating many people in rural areas through closing bus routes.

“Access for disabled people, support for vulnerable women – including those who have suffered domestic abuse, short breaks for children with disabilities, healthy eating programmes for children and six school crossing patrols are also under threat.

“Some of the savings are modest, a school crossing patrol costs £2,500 a year – or about what each member will receive in extra payments over the two years. Are these allowances more important than children’s safety?

“West Berkshire Green Party believes that these cuts are unjustified and can be avoided if the Conservative group takes the advice it has been freely offering local charities – use your reserves to cover any shortfall in 2016/17.

“As you will know, local authorities are to be allowed to keep 100 per cent of revenue from business rates in future years – twice the current amount – so the council will have every incentive and opportunity to raise its own revenue and continue to provide the services local people rely on.”

Councillor for Thatcham South and Crookham and West Berkshire Council leader Roger Croft pointed the finger at the Independent Remuneration Panel, which reviewed the allowances and found them substantially lower than their benchmark group.

He said: “Councillors in West Berkshire receive the second lowest basic allowance in Berkshire and still receive one of the lowest basic allowances among unitary authorities in the South East.”

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