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West Berkshire councillors award themselves a rise in allowances

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The total allowances will be up to £528,000 a year from April 2022

COUNCILLORS elected to represent people in West Berkshire have awarded themselves a pay rise.

It means the basic annual allowance for all 43 councillors on West Berkshire Council will rise from £7,909 to £8,154 and executive members, who have additional responsibilities, will receive £10,193 a year.

The council leader’s allowance will rise from £19,242 to £20,385 and the deputy leader will receive an extra £686 a year, taking the total to £12,231.

The majority of councillors voted for the increase at a meeting on December 3, but decided it should be delayed until after the pandemic and not come into effect until April 2022.

Council leader Lynne Doherty said it “may appear insensitive” to approve the increase during the pandemic but councillors “need to be reasonably compensated” for their time.

She also said the new allowances may encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to the role, including people on lower incomes, working parents and young people.

Green Party councillors said they could not vote to increase their own pay while many people are struggling with the financial impact of Covid-19 and most public sector workers (including council staff) were facing a pay freeze.

After the increase, that was recommended by an independent remuneration panel, the councillor allowances will cost the taxpayer up to £528,000 a year.

The panel said councillors should be paid £17.29 an hour, because that is the full-time gross hourly wage for West Berkshire, and they are required to work at least 16 hours a week, but expected to do almost half of that work voluntarily.

Councillor David Marsh (Green, Wash Common) said it would be the third pay rise West Berkshire councillors have awarded themselves since they approved a 16.5 per cent rise in 2015.

“Even in normal times we don’t believe this would be justified,” he said.

“More and more people are living in poverty and more and more people are reliant on food banks, even in relatively prosperous West Berkshire.

“Is this really the moment for the representatives of the people of this district to say yes to a fourth pay rise in five years?”

Councillor Graham Bridgman, deputy leader of the council, said the increase was “justified” and when allowances are low “too many councillors are elderly or wealthy”.

He added: “If electors want more people like me in the council, keep the allowances down or reduce them.

“If instead, they want to attract diversity, they need to have allowances that reflect the real cost of being a councillor.”

Councillor Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said he carries out up to 30 hours of work a week as a councillor and that means he receives just £8.21 an hour for the work, which is less than the minimum wage.

“How can we encourage anyone who isn’t independently wealthy into this position? They can’t even pay the babysitters.

“If you want good people to do the job, we need to be able to reward them.

“I’m not asking for the money myself, I’m quite happy to give it back to charity. It’s not for me, it’s to enable others to do the job.”

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