VIDEO: Council leader argues case for increases as county councillors vote to give themselves massive pay rise

PROTESTERS – including some Cambridge city councillors and Unison officials - failed to stop Cambridgeshire County Council voting to give themselves massive pay rises. The vote was 33 for the rise, 29 against with one abstention.

About 20 protestors, smaller in number than some expected, gathered outside Shire Hall: some councillors stopped to talk with the protestors but the majority walked straight through to the council chamber.

Some posters accused councillors of “having your snouts in the trough” while one banner proclaimed: “Being able to vote on it yourself – priceless”.

The move- which would see basic allowances for the 69 Cambridgeshire councillors rise from �7,610 a year to �9,500- has been recommended by a review panel.

Councillors have been offered a free vote but with some exceptions are

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likely to split on party lines.

Cabinet member Martin Curtis says the rise is justified and will support the increases but a notable exception is Tory councillor Steve Tierney from Wisbech. Whilst agreeing a rise is needed he believes now is the wrong time to implement.

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Our reporter at Shire Hall, Hugh Morris, described the protest as being “smaller than I expected. At its peak I suppose there were about 20 people there.”

He said Unison members argued that their members were subject to a pay freeze at a time when inflation was running at 4.5 per cent.

The total cash set aside for members’ allowances will rise from �763,000 to �929,000 and will include big increases for the leader, Cabinet members, opposition leaders and spokesmen, and committee chairmen.

It could mean, for example, that the leader Councillor Nick Clarke will be on a package worth �38,000 a year compared to the present �29,246. His deputy will be on �26,600 a year and nine others on packages worth over �20,000 a year each.

The review panel, which has only met five times since 1998, was chaired by Dr Declan Hall, an independent consultant specialising in members’ allowances. It included Penny Kingham JP, Anne Constantine, principal of Cambridge Regional College, and Paul Richardson, editorial director of Archant Herts and Cambs.

“If local democracy is to prosper people must have choice,” said Dr Hall. “Choice means having candidates for council membership who have different backgrounds and life experiences.

“Remuneration of elected members is one means to achieve that end.”

Average Cambridgeshire salaries of �105 a day were used as one barometer to determine how much councillors should be awarded.

Dr Hall believes the demands made upon councillors’ means that those who are elected “cannot reasonably expect to pursue a career or make progress in their chosen employment in the accepted sense.

“Whilst they may make that sacrifice knowingly and explicitly the implications need to be understood and acted upon.”

There was a need for a balance between voluntary effort and financial sacrifice but proper allowances were needed, he said, for the council to be able to attract representative cross sections of the communities they represent.

If approved there will be pressure put on councillors who attend less than three quarters of possible meetings to forgo part of their allowances.

They also pointed out that “it is important to recognise that elected members are in different financial circumstances and for those who can afford to forgo allowances the opportunity is there.” There is no obligation to take any cash.

The panel warns that “being an elected member will not get easier” and that Cambridgeshire’s allowances are at the lower end when compared to other councils.

“The panel felt this undervalued not only elected members but also the county and its citizens,” the panel noted.

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