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Cambridgeshire Tory leader Steve Count under fire for attack on councillor allowances

Cllr Lorna Dupre reminded Cllr Steve Count of what he had done in 2017 after becoming county council leader

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Lib Dem councillor Lorna Dupre tore a strip off opposition leader Steve Count at Cambridgeshire County Council for criticising an index linked increase in allowances that was recommended by an independent panel. Cllr Count said of the modest rise that “I never voted for this in the first place so I doubt I am going to be I do not see how I can vote for this.

“In the second place it was not my wishes to increase the members allowances when this was put in front of us and now to say, ‘oh we now need a little bit more because part of that deal was an inflationary rise’ does not have my support either.”

Cllr Steve Count said of the modest rise that “I never voted for this in the first place so I doubt I am going to be I do not see how I can vote for this”.

Cllr Steve Count said of the modest rise that “I never voted for this in the first place so I doubt I am going to be I do not see how I can vote for this”.

But Cllr Dupre was having none of it.

“When we ask an independent panel to meet and consider the situation and make some recommendations, I tend to take the view that we should listen to what they say,” she said.

“And unless there are overwhelming reasons to do something different that we should accept what they say.

“We’ve asked them to do a job of work they’ve done that with rigor and to the best of their ability and we should accept it.”

And she reminded Cllr Count of what he had done in 2017 after becoming leader of the county council.

“If we don’t and if we start messing around and say we’re going to do our own thing we end up with the situation that we had in July 2017 when under Councillor Count’s leadership of the council the recommendations of the independent remuneration panel were rejected,” she said.

“And the total bill for councillors allowances changed from the one recommended by the panel, which was £751, 550 to £936,712 which was an increase of £185,000 over and above the recommendations of the independent panel.”

And she reminded councillors, this was at a time “when the vast majority of which was awarded to members of the ruling group.

“That is absolutely unacceptable, and I do not want to do anything which opens the door to that kind of abuse of the system which is why I’m very keen that unless there are overwhelming reasons to do something different, we should accept with gratitude the work that the independent panel has done and the recommendations that they have come up.”

Cllr Alex Bulat (Labour) said: “I debate a lot of controversial issues in politics and in my day job as well, but I think there are very few things that upset me more than this debate we have to have every year.”

Cllr Alex Bulat (Labour) said: “I debate a lot of controversial issues in politics and in my day job as well, but I think there are very few things that upset me more than this debate we have to have every year.”

Cllr Alex Bulat (Labour) said: “I debate a lot of controversial issues in politics and in my day job as well, but I think there are very few things that upset me more than this debate we have to have every year.”

She agreed it was right for an independent panel to make recommendations on allowances, but she also felt “role of a councillor should be treated as a job including with workers’ rights.

“For example, I’m not sure how many of you know that you most lenders don’t even accept this source of income like for a mortgage application for instance which really would put off a lot of young people who don’t have a clue that this is what we’re getting into when you know we’re thinking about buying our first home for instance

“I do think if we actually want people to put in like a decent amount of work in this and we want diverse in local politics we do need to treat it as work.”

Cllr Bulat added: “This is the process we have, and this is the recommendation that we have.

“I just want to make one point because I feel like across and this is not the criticism of this debate in this council.

“There is a bit of hypocrisy in this debate so for instance I was looking at Fenland District Council which voted to increase basic allowances, increase special responsibility allowances, and voted to pay allowances for the Combined Authority work which other districts do which by the way and I totally agree

“One of the Fenland district councillors who also sits on the county council – though not present today – said and I quote ‘we cannot forever say no one; councillors deserve remuneration for the work they do’

“And I totally agree with that so I would say let us have some consistency if we are going to raise the allowances at district we cannot really come here and say we actually do not deserve any rise when literally everything is increasing.

“I am not sure about all of you, but my food bills are increasing, my rent is increasing everything apart from some luxury goods in this country is increasing right now.

“I think if we’re standing for and if we’re campaigning for increases in pay for our nurses our doctors our care workers then we should apply the same standards to ourselves because the cost of living does affect everyone so I’m really passionate about this issue.”

She added: “I really want to support more diversity in local government, and I will support the recommendations.”

Cllr Jonas King, who recently left the Conservatives to become an Independent, said he would not support the increase.

Cllr Jonas King (back row), who recently left the Conservatives to become an Independent, said he would not support the increase.

Cllr Jonas King (back row), who recently left the Conservatives to become an Independent, said he would not support the increase.

“This administration has just passed a council tax increase of almost 5 per cent and that money should be diverted into public services and not lining councillors pockets,” he said.

Cllr David Connor (Con) said: “I do not agree in this instance with the remuneration panel.

Cllr David Connor (Con) said: “I do not agree in this instance with the remuneration panel.

Cllr David Connor (Con) said: “I do not agree in this instance with the remuneration panel.

“In these times of austerity and with the coalition putting Council Tax up to more than 5 per cent, I think it would send out a wrong message to our residents so I will not be supporting this.”

Cllr Simone Taylor (Ind) said she supported the rise.

“I do believe that many like me when I attend council meetings and I take time off work I do not get paid and it is not lying in my pockets thank you very much,” she said.

Cllr Ross Hathorn (Lib Dem) said supported the rise, too.

Cllr Simone Taylor (Ind) said she supported the rise.

Cllr Simone Taylor (Ind) said she supported the rise.

“Before Christmas we were all asked if we could fill in a Freedom of Information request about how much work we put in,” she said.

“And across the council there was a universal sort of shock and horror because there is so much even detailing what we do because it is diverse and complicated

“So, I think it is reasonable that we listen to the recommendations, and I will be supporting this.”

Cllr Stephen Ferguson (Independent) said he remained passionate about making being a councillor accessible to a wider range of people “and not the sole preserve of the retired and independently wealthy.

Cllr Stephen Ferguson (Independent) said he remained passionate about making being a councillor accessible to a wider range of people “and not the sole preserve of the retired and independently wealthy

Cllr Stephen Ferguson (Independent) said he remained passionate about making being a councillor accessible to a wider range of people “and not the sole preserve of the retired and independently wealthy. He is pictured centre in the photo

“My dilemma is that if I vote against this motion, I will be raising the barrier to entry to future councillors.

“On the other hand, we are living in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, and it has taken a heavy toll on the life of ordinary people. In 2020 the Joseph Fry Foundation published a report that revealed that one in five Britons is living in poverty in 2020 that was 13.6 million people and things have significantly worse since then

“But after 13 years of ideological Conservative austerity we are always in crisis these days and it’s difficult to see things getting better anytime soon,” he said.

Cllr Ferguson said if the council agreed to increase the allowance, he would donate the extra to a charity.

Twenty-six councillors were in favour of the increase, fifteen against and two abstentions.

Eighteen county councillors were absent.

 

FACT FILE

In 2017 then Cambs council leader Councillor Steve Count had to defend his decision to increase members’ allowances by 30 per cent saying the “numbers were not as clear cut as they appeared”.

He had a “heavy heart” making the recommendation, but said the independent panel was “not in line with reality”.

It gave a massive rise to all senior Tory councillors holding portfolio style positions – including to the leader.

The 2024 independent panel recommended that the indexation for 2023/24 and 2024/25 should be based on the P&M Pay Scale, grades P4-P6. This equates to an indexation of 3.88% for 2023/24.

The percentage increase for 2024/25 will also be based on the P&M Scale P4-P6. For 2023/24 and 2024/25 any backdating will be applicable to 1st April 2023 and 1st April 2024.

Basic Allowance Current allowance £11,133.53 x 61 £679,145.33 Increase £431.98 £26,350.84 Total £705,496.17

 

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