County councillors freeze allowances

CAMBRIDGESHIRE county councillors have all but one voted to freeze their allowances.

In a spectacular volte-face after October’s decision to increase their own pay by 25 per cent - a move which was later scrapped after due process was not followed - county councillors today voted to freeze their basic allowance at �7,610.

On top of that, members will now be restricted to only one “special responsibility allowance” for posts held within the council.

With a show of hands, all the councillors at the full council meeting voted to endorse independent remuneration panel’s report, except Cllr Shona Johnstone who abstained because she disagreed with claiming travel allowances for parish council meetings.

Cllr Peter Downes said of the long-running saga: “In my 11 years as a county councillor, I cannot think of any single thing this council has decided which has brought upon us as much opprobrium as the decision made prior to Christmas.

“It is a matter of relief that are now able to get ourselves off that hook.”

He added: “We should never take ourselves too seriously or regard ourselves as being too important. We could do better.”

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The debate raised wider issues about the allowances scheme with leader of the council Nick Clarke calling on the Government to change the system used to set councillor pay.

“This system is the wrong system and we will continue to press to see if we can get the Government to look at this again to see if we can get a better system,” he said.

Leader of the Labour group Cllr Tariq Sadiq said the allowances scheme fails to address the image of politics as reserved for the elite.

He said: “That is a fundamental problem in this country. How can we get people from different backgrounds to be councillors?”

He said politics in England was in need of “repair”.

Last October councillors were accused of having their “snouts in the trough” as they voted through a 25 per cent pay rise. This was later declared void after it emerged the process of putting together the remuneration panel had been flawed.

A new panel was formed earlier this year. It main recommendations which will now be adopted are:

* Basic allowances to stay at �7,610

* Two tiers of allowances for portfolio holders to be scrapped in favour of average �11,697 allowance

* Five, not one, major spokespeople for opposition to be on �6,380

* “One special responsibility allowance” rule to be introduced

* Travel expenses for parish council meetings

Cllr Johnstone said parish council travel cannot be audited and could therefore be inaccurate.

“We need to not only be whiter than white but also be seen to be whiter than white,” she said.