Tuesday July 18 - or hence forward known as ‘Fat Cat Tuesday’ - as county councillors vote themselves massive pay rises

County council leader Steve Count

County council leader Steve Count - Credit: Archant

Tory leader Steve Count blamed exclusion from last year of councillors from the local government pension scheme as one reason for proposing allowances much bigger than those recommended by an independent panel.

The shock move by the Tory controlled council to agree an amendment – configured during secret sessions – was revealed by Cllr Count in a press release five minutes before today’s full meeting of the council.

As council leader his pay will rise to £31,745 a year with the deputy leader being paid £20,627 a year.

Only one Tory refused to vote for the rise – Wisbech mayor Steve Tierney who abstained. One source tells me the Conservative group was subject to a three line whip and had Cllr Tierney voted against, rather than abstain, he could have been suspended from the group.

Cllr Count said the increase in allowances proposed by the independent panel would have meant each councillor getting an immediate increase of 8.4 per cent “rising to 21 per cent increase by the end of the four year term to make the scheme fairer”.

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The panel had agreed that the current rate of basic allowance is too low and was not at a level that would allow councillors to make the time commitment required.

This was “particularly now there are fewer councillors, larger electoral divisions and rapidly increasing populations within many divisions.”

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But the panel also said considered whether the current financial and economic climate should inform its recommendations and decided that this was an important factor, and the public would quite rightly expect it to form part of the panel’s considerations.

Under the proposals they put forward councillors would have received £8.600 a year (from the current £7,933.32) and would have seen the annual allowances budget drop from £836,316 to £751,500.

That has now changed with Cllr Count costing the new scheme at £936,726 – he said the previous figure was in reality £859,840 to take account of pension contributions.

Had the county accepted their independent panel’s view, the council leader would have seen his pay rise from £21,000 a year to £25,000. The panel concluded that the leader’s extra responsibilities in terms of the portfolio post he also occupies in the new combined authority headed by the mayor. The authority pays no allowances to elected members.

Cllr Count said “We acknowledge the difficult task set for the Independent Remuneration Panel.

“Regrettably we feel unable to accept the recommendations which we feel do not meet the requirements of the guidance, particularly in relation to ensuring that councillors do not suffer significant financial loss as a result of undertaking the role. “In that regard it is the duty of the Panel to clearly recognise and base their decision on the time commitment that councillors make, week in week out, and we really feel that this just hasn’t happened.”

He added: “Elected councillors spend an average of 20 to 30 hours per week carrying out their duties, for which they currently receive a basic allowance in Cambridgeshire of just over £7,933 per annum, the lowest in the country.”

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