Peterborough City Council has approved a controversial pay rise for its councillors.
At the meeting of the full council (January 26) members approved, by a majority vote, to increase their remuneration for the coming financial year 2022/23.
Currently, all councillors receive a basic pay package of £10,508 per year for 1,300 hours of work, which equates to 25 hours per week.
Having listened to the findings of an Independent Remuneration Panel (who follow government guidelines on councillors pay) it was suggested that their annual pay package be raised by £155 per year to £10,663.
However, the chamber was completely divided on whether this was the right thing to be doing given the current financial difficulties that Peterborough City Council finds itself in.
The council has a legal obligation to balance the budget by March 11, which means it will have to increase council tax by 3% while continuing to cut many services in an effort to save £12.6m.
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Councillor Chris Harper, who recently resigned from the leading Conservative Group and now stands as an independent, said: “Personally, when I consider the financial position of this council, and adding in the fact that many families in our city are struggling already to pay their bills, and are likely to struggle even more with the hike in utility bills that’s been forecast – for that reason I simply cannot support accepting the suggested increase.”
It was a position echoed by the leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Shaz Nawaz who added: “In a couple of months’ time we will be sat here looking at significant cuts to quite a few different service areas.
“I think it is important that we lead by example – as this is just a few pounds per councillor, per week – I don’t think it is going to break the bank for anybody.
“But what I do think is that it will send a very clear message to the people of Peterborough that when it comes to us voting for our own increases, we’ve put those on freeze because we recognise that a lot of people are going through a very difficult time right now.”
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However, that was not the view of the leader of the council, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald who said: “I hear what you’re saying about messaging – but we do not determine in this council what we get allowances for, or the amount that we get.
“We merely either choose to accept the panel’s recommendation or not. We kicked it down the road last year, and what’s being suggested again today is to do that again.
“Well, what’s the point of having the panel?
“There’s never going to be a good time to do this, and we’re always going to get criticised.
“So, I will be supporting the panel’s recommendation and I hope that you can also do so because it is difficult – but it’s the right thing to do.”
Cabinet member for finance, Cllr Andy Coles agreed. He said: “We’ve heard a very interesting debate which happens just about every time this item comes to council – which is whether we should or should not accept.
“It is very simple: an independent panel has looked at it. It’s given us advice on what we should be paid – what we’re voting on is whether to accept their independent recommendations.
“So, actually we’re not voting for our own rise but that is the impact of voting to support what the independent remuneration panel says.
“Members, I suggest that we vote for this and do not delay it any further.”
Cllr Marco Cereste, who had proposed the motion to accept the findings of the panel, said: “These decisions are always very, very difficult.
“As Cllr Fitzgerald has already said, there is never a good time to take this kind of decision, and this is why we appoint an independent remuneration panel.
“So that a group of people, outside of the council, could make reasonable, sensible, recommendations about what councillors should be receiving for the work that they do for our citizens, our electors and our city.
“I don’t know what the right answer is. I would suggest to everybody that you vote with your conscience.
“I’m going to vote in favour – you must do what you think is right.”
When it came to the vote it reflected the divide in the chamber. Members voted 29 for the rise, 21 against, with 8 abstentions.
Therefore, the suggestion of the independent remuneration panel was approved, and Peterborough City Councillors will get a pay rise of £155 per annum, taking their basic allowance to £10,663 per annum.
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