National body should make pay decisions for us, says county council

THE county council will call on the Government to introduce a national scheme of allowances for councillors but rejected the chance to put off any pay rise until 2013.

In a meeting which descended into chaos and arguing more than once, the council was accused of letting itself “off the hook” by passing the responsibility for any future increase in allowances to a national body.

Cambridgeshire County Council was greeted by a tirade of criticism in October after it agreed a 25 per cent pay rise for councillors, only for faults to be found in the way the independent panel who recommend allowance levels was put together. The decision was declared void and a new process begun.

At a meeting of full council yesterday, it was agreed to call on the Department for Communities and Local Government to introduce a national scheme. An amendment to delay any increase until such a scheme is in place or April 2013 failed by 11 votes.

But the majority of the discussion was taken up with arguments and political name calling. While leader of the council Nick Clarke attacked the Liberal Democrats for their silence during October’s allowance debate, cries of “rubbish, absolute rubbish” rang out in the chamber.

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Twice, Cllr Nicola Harrison stormed out the meeting criticising councillors for “irrelevant” debate and calling on the chairman “to avoid the loss of dignity in the council and stop this”.

But the arguments continued as Cllr Belinda Brooks-Gordon called Cllr Clarke’s approach to the pay review “psychotically partisan”. Cllr Peter Downes told the Tories the motion was “a chance to let yourselves off the hook on which you are impaled”.

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Cllr Mac McGuire who proposed the motion said: “With the benefit of hindsight that [October’s pay rise debate] was probably not our finest hour but that, I would contend, was not our fault.

“We should not have to be put in that position. I think the system is flawed.”

It was Conservative councillors who then rejected an amendment to suspend a pay review until 2013 while other councillors continued to argue now was not the right time to increase their own pay.

Cllr David Jenkins said: “This council is cutting services, this council is making people redundant, this council has its employees’ salaries frozen.

“We think this is the wrong time for an allowance increase.”

A new review has been begun and it is expected a report will not be complete before spring next year.

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