WEB EXCLUSIVE: Panel chairman says left to him Cambs councillors would have got more than the 25 per cent voted through

THE chairman of the panel that recommended giving Cambridgeshire councillors a 25 per cent pay rise said tonight that if it had been his decision alone they would have got even more.

Dr Declan Hall said: “It should have been higher. Cambridgeshire is a big county, a world leader in certain fields and with key partnerships and structures to support.

“Compared to everywhere else we looked at, Cambridgeshire is paying some of the lowest allowances out there.”

Dr Hall said the panel had looked at the county council budget, compared it to other local councils, and concluded Cambridgeshire was a “big hitter in local government terms.

“If this report had been written solely by me I would probably have gone higher and that’s based on the size of the county and the work it does.”

On Tuesday councillors voted narrowly to up their basic allowance from �7,610 to �9,500 although a procedural challenge has delayed its implementation.

Dr Hall revealed he had been asked to chair the independent review panel by Wilma Wilkie, head of democratic services at Shire Hall.

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Ironically she is also responsible for the standards committee which should have appointed the chairman and the review panel and which is now subject to an internal inquiry.

Dr Hall, however, said that once his work was complete and the report delivered what happened next was out of his hands.

He believes he was asked because of his expertise in chairing similar panels and in recent years has conducted reviews throughout the UK. Last year he chaired the allowances review at Huntingdonshire District Council.

“Ultimately the decision is for the council to make on the evidence we have given them,” he said.

“We weren’t working in a vacuum. We realised times are hard and that was one of the reasons why we didn’t go as high as we might have done.”

He said the panel heard evidence from councillors and “we listened we what they said and heard of people who could no longer afford to be councillors.”

Dr Hall said the panel was aware of the economic climate “and of course of the economic context. We were not naive but agreed to move things forward and to have a realistic expectation of what councillors do.”

He said there was “never a definitive answer with these members’ allowances. In a sense you’re never going to get it right.”

Unlike Scotland and Wales – where he also makes recommendations and where there is more uniformity in allowances- English local authorities all do it individually.

“It was a good Cambridgeshire panel, and we went through some robust and frank deliberations,” said Dr Hall “The panel had people locally who are experts in their field and we wanted to make sure they could defend the recommendations and see the validity behind them.”