An independent panel’s recommendation to give Richmondshire councillors a 44 per cent pay rise has been branded “absolutely ridiculous”.
Former Richmondshire District Council leader Councillor Yvonne Peacock said the proposed inflation-busting rise in basic allowances could not have come at a worse time, as many of the area’s residents had lost their jobs or income and businesses had been severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The panel, which legally must be employed to determine elected members’ payments, said it recognised with the pandemic and the resultant financial pressures on the council and residents it was “not a particularly apt time” for the review”.
In a report to a meeting of the full authority next week the panel, which included a former deputy manager of Colburn Co-op and president of Colburn Women’s Institute and an ex-Birmingham University academic, states: “Yet, it is never an apt time to review members’ allowances and this is even more the case as the allowances have not been fundamentally reviewed since at least 2010.
“In fact, the main allowances are less now than they were then, once inflation is taken into account.”
Its recommendations include a rise in councillors’ basic allowances from £3,000 to £4,326, increasing the cost from £72,000 to £103,824.
The panel has also stated the council leader and deputy leader’s allowances should be increased from £5,500 and £2,750 to £8,652 and £4,326.
It highlighted the increases would leave councillors in Richmondshire receiving less than counterparts in neighbouring districts. For example, in Hambleton District councillors receive £6,958 basic allowance and in addition to that the leader and deputy leader receive £34,790 and £17,395 respectively.
Despite the relatively modest level of the proposed allowances, the panel’s recommendations have sparked consternation among a number of members.
The Green Party and Independent councillor Kevin Foster said he was fully aware of the allowances he would be given to represent Colburn when he was elected and the payments should be frozen. He said: “I am opposed to any rises in allowance, especially at this time when some residents are struggling and things could get worse before we see any improvement in the Covid situation. It seems ludicrous councillors can actually vote on a recommendation for a rise in allowances. I would suggest councillors should only vote on new allowances that begin at the start of a new administration.”
Tory group leader Cllr Peacock added the proposed rise would wipe out the savings made when the number of councillors was controversially cut from 34 to 24. She said: “When people’s jobs and businesses have been cut there’s no way councillors should be awarding themselves a big pay rise.”