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Pay rise for members leads to 'red faces'

Malvern Editorial 5th Mar, 2014 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

A DECISION to increase allowances for senior members of the district council has been branded an ’embarrassment’ by opposition councillors.

A proposal for a £7,350 sum for deputy leader Paul Swinburn replacing his £6,300 portfolio allowance and a £2,100 rise for leader David Hughes on top of their basic £4,200 councillor allowance provoked fierce criticism.

Several councillors also questioned increased allowances for certain committee chairmen and political group leaders.

The recommendations made by the Independent Remuneration Panel were voted through last week following extensive debate in the council chamber.

Coun Julian Roskams labelled the move ‘political farce’ and claimed deputy leader Swinburn should now be referred to as Buzz Lightyear because his new allowance was one of ‘infinity and beyond’ while he claimed the leader had pulled off a ‘magic trick’ in telling residents it was a good idea.

“This is something of an embarrassment. When we can no longer find money for essential services, at a time when residents are being required to tighten their belts, this is not the time to be paying a few so-called senior councillors more.”

Coun Roskams’ own allowance as leader of the Democrat group is set to increase by £250 which he said he would donate to community groups.

Coun Clive Smith branded the decision an ‘abomination’ and said certain councillors ‘had got their nose in the trough’ – a comment he declined to withdraw when asked.

Fellow Democrat member Coun David Harrison claimed allowances were increasing by six per cent on average while pay rises to council employees had been capped at one per cent.

He said the workload of certain roles did not justify extra money claiming the chairman of the audit committee would earn more than £350 an hour.

Several Conservative members also expressed reservation over the move. Coun Paul Cumming, the council’s finance chief, voted against it for the sake of his ‘conscience’ while Coun Paul Tuthill declared the recommendations should be dismissed in a minute.

Others spoke out in favour however. Coun Graham Myatt argued allowances recognised the years of experience and expertise councillors provided not merely the hours they worked.

Leader David Hughes stated the allowance changes affected future councillors and not just those who currently held senior roles. He moved to accept the recommendations but admitted it would make him an easy target for the public and his critics.

“We all agree it’s not right for councillors to set their own allowances. We have charged the IRP to assess them objectively. It would be ridiculous to turn our back on the experts who have done this.

“If we try to cherry pick our way through these we will be doing the very thing we wanted to get away from.

“I acknowledge the report recommends increased leader’s allowances but on behalf of my long suffering family and those of previous leaders I would not argue with it.”

The recommendations were approved with 20 votes in favour and 13 against with three councillors abstaining.

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