North Yorkshire councillors have voted to freeze their allowances for the first time in several years, despite having dedicated large amounts of extra time serving their communities during the pandemic.
North Yorkshire County Council will continue to pay its 72 elected members £10,142 each over the coming financial year in recognition of the financial strain that many of its residents are facing due to Covid-19.
The decision will mean the councillors basic allowances will account for the equivalent of 517 of its band D council tax bills.
However, since last agreeing to freeze their allowances in 2016 to reflect the impact of austerity on the council’s budget, the authority’s councillors’ basic allowances have risen from £8,994 to £10,142, representing a 12.7 per cent increase in pay over four years.
The Bank of England’s inflation rate calculator shows the rise in councillors allowances over that period have closely matches the average 2.7 per cent rate of inflation.
An independent panel, including a former regional manager for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a retired managing director of a hardware company, a retired solicitor and a a lecturer at a leading UK university, had recommended allowances should be frozen for the coming year.
The panel found while attending meetings virtually may have saved travelling
time for councillors, any such saving had been “more than offset by the significant additional time councillors have devoted to the special needs within their community, especially for the most vulnerable”, at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
It found councillors’ attendance at meetings had slightly increased, but the council was facing a £1.4m overspend over the past year directly as a result of Covid-19.
The panel’s report stated adequately compensating councillors was needed to attract the required calibre of candidate from a more diverse range of backgrounds.
It stated: “The longer-term impact of the pandemic remains a critical issue with significant uncertainty around impacts on levels of funding from government and local taxpayers, the wider economy and local markets, with potentially major repercussions for the county council’s budget and cash flow.
“It continues to be the strong belief of this panel that, while the previous reluctance of members to accept proposed increases in the basic allowance has been admirable in the light of the financial climate at the time, members should be adequately and appropriately compensated for their contributions.”
The panel recommended allowances should not be increased due to the financial strain on the council’s resources and the Government’s policy of no public sector pay increases.
It added: “Nevertheless, we do still strongly believe that there remains a case, when possible, for further increases over the next few years in order to ensure that North Yorkshire’s allowance scheme adequately reflects the demands made on its councillors.”
Ahead of the pay freeze being agreed by members, the authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said: “I think we all agree that the level of allowances should never be a barrier to anybody wanting to stand for council, but I do agree wholeheartedly that this year is not the right time to have any increases.”