Uttlesford councillors vote for increase in their allowances

THE allowance scheme for members of Uttlesford District Council has been changed to better reflect responsibilities in a cabinet system of governance.

Last Thursday (February 28) councillors approved the alterations despite some having reservations about increasing allowances at a time of ongoing austerity cuts and pay freezes for council staff.

The move was designed to update the allowance scheme following the council’s change from a committee system in 2011.

On top of the basic allowance of £5,000, leader of the Conservative administration, Cllr Jim Ketteridge, will now get £8,750, up £1,250, from April.

But his annual group leader allowance will be reduced – a loss of about £876 – and the £215 home broadband allowance scrapped. It equates to an overall extra allowance of £159 per year.

Deputy leader Cllr Jackie Cheetham, who is also chairman of the planning committee, will see her extra allowance rise from £3,750 to £5,250, while the other four members of the cabinet will have extra allowances of £4,750, up from £3,750.

But the chairman of the standards committee will now get a basic allowance of £3,000, down £750, scrutiny £3,500, a £250 reduction, and licensing £3,250, down £500. Each political group leader’s allowance will be scaled back from £3,876 to £3,000.

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Overall it equates to a 0.6 per cent increase to the council’s budget – around £500.

Twenty-three of the 28 councillors present voted to approve the recommendations by the Independent Remuneration Panel with amendments but four Lib Dem members and the mayor of Saffron Walden were against the motion.

Cllr David Watson said: “We are all volunteers here. The people sat on the cabinet are all volunteers. We voted for the cabinet system and to use that as a reason to increase allowances in a time of economic crisis, I believe is wrong.”

Lib Dem leader Cllr David Morson also recommended no increase “as a matter of principle” and reiterated that if the Lib Dems were to return to power they would seek a move back to the committee structure.

“Council staff have had a very difficult time during the current economic climate and there are many who have not had pay rises for the last three years,” he said.

“I think it would be insidious for us to reward ourselves any pay rises, especially as the current financial situation is not going to get any better in the near future.”

Cabinet member Cllr Howard Rolfe reminded councillors the 0.6 per cent increase only equated to around £500 but Cllr Janice Loughlin, Lib Dem member for Stort Valley, told Cllr Rolfe it was “not about the percentage, but the principle”.

She agreed with Cllr Morson that to vote for a pay rise when staff were not getting one was wrong, saying there was “no fairness or justice in it”.

Cllr Ketteridge said the allowance system was being “updated” to reflect the change from a committee system to a cabinet and made it clear the proposed subsequent increases for 2014/15 and 2015/16 would be reviewed in December 2013 and 2014, respectively.