West Norfolk councillors vote to take 8.5 per cent allowance hike

West Norfolk Council's offices
West Norfolk Council's offices
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Councillors in West Norfolk have voted to accept an 8.5 per cent rise in their basic allowances, after attempts to lower the increases were dismissed as “posturing.”

An independent panel had proposed the measures, which were passed at a borough council meeting last night.

But they were only adopted after two amendments seeking to lower the rise were rejected.

Labour’s Gary McGuinness initially called for the increase to be lowered to one per cent, bringing it in line with that offered to council staff.

When that was lost, he proposed a second amendment to increase allowances by just over five per cent, which he said would be in line with the increases given to staff since the last time allowances went up in 2010.

He said that, while he preferred to freeze the allowances altogether, five per cent was the very most that should be accepted, given the continuing limitations on staff wages.

He said: “I believe we have a responsibility to set an example. We have done in the past.”

And, following the meeting, he revealed he would be giving the increase in his allowances to the council’s Unison branch.

He said: “I would hope to be able to help staff who find themselves in financial difficulty as a result of the continued policy of pay restraint.”

Independent Jim Moriarty also questioned whether it was right for councillors to accept a rise after voting through a raft of scrutiny reforms, which will see the council switch to a new six-weekly cycle of meetings.

He estimated the measure would reduce the number of meetings members attend by around 25 per cent.

And he asked: “Is it wise we are increasing our allowances at the same time as the first increase in council tax for some time? I understand people will link those items together.”

But another Labour councillor, Charles Joyce, said there was little point in inviting the panel, chaired by Mike Press, to make recommendations if they were to be rejected.

And deputy leader Alistair Beales said: “I think there’s a bit of political posturing. More sensible members will support proper payment of allowances. I think we should acknowledge proper value for what we do.”

Tory backbencher Geoffrey Wareham said members were “fortunate” to receive what was recommended by the panel.

There was also criticism of the proposed reforms to scrutiny structures, in which panels would elect their own chairmen and opposition members would have the right to place items onto agenda, when Conservative members would not.

Labour leader John Collop said the rejection of their calls for reforms including opposition groups being guaranteed senior committee positions, meant that was now the only avenue through which they could take part in council business.

He said: “This wont give us a chance to engage so we may as well give up.”

But Mr Beales said Labour had misunderstood the change, which he claimed gave the opposition a “pretty sweeping authority.”

He maintained the measures were a genuine attempt to improve scrutiny processes that had not been working.

He said: “It would suit the administration not to have scrutiny. Thats not the objective at all.”