A PROPOSED cash hike for all 84 councillors on Cumbria County Council has been rejected today.
An independent panel - made up of five members of the public - had suggested councillors agree to increase their allowances to an annual total of £1,085,496 – a £3,500 rise.
But councillors rejected the proposal amid speeches that it would go down like a lead balloon with the public and under-pressure council staff.
Instead, the majority on the Lab-Lib Dem run authority backed Council leader Stewart Young’s alternative, which will see a £12,000 reduction in the annual bill.
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However, an alternative proposal by Independent councillor Robert Betton to cut allowances by 10 per cent, failed to find a seconder and did not go to the vote.
Coun Stewart Young, Labour leader of the cash-strapped authority, had been inline to benefit from a £2063 rise suggested by the panel on top of the £22,937 he can claim for being leader.
Instead, Coun Young proposed a series of alternatives which incorporated some of the panels’ reductions but none of its rises.
The alternative won cross-party support from ruling Labour and Lib Dem members, as well as the Conservatives, although the Tory group abstained from the final vote.
Coun Young told the chamber at County Hall in Kendal today: “We are in unprecedented times in terms of the financial challenges facing the council and we have difficult decisions which will affect peoples' livelihoods and jobs.”
Windermere’s Coun Jo Stephenson, finance portfolio holder for the Cabinet and leader of the power-sharing Lib Dems on the authority, supported the move, as did Coun James Airey, leader of the Tories.
Coun Robert Betton, a vociferous and long-standing opponent of the sums paid to councillors - who receive a basic of just over £8000-a-year - tried to win support for his 10 per cent cut proposal.
Coun Betton said: “I welcome the recommendations (by the leader) but I do not think they go far enough. More can, and should, be done. For the past two years I’ve said members’ allowances should reduce by 10 per cent and I have donated 10 per cent of my allowance to charity and will do so again. As a council, we are cutting jobs, services, and it’s only right we lead by example.”
Lib Dem Coun Stan Collins said he would happily take a cut if it could be put into a new system which would encourage more working people, rather than retirees, to stand for council.
Every year, the council expects its councillors to cost a total of £1.2 million in allowances, travel and food and drink, which is less than 1 per cent of its £400m budget.
The increases had been proposed by its Independent Renumeration Panel, which is legally bound to review the allowances and are appointed following a public recruitment process.
Papers before the council showed that four of its five members have public sector backgrounds in organisations like the NHS and HR for local government.
Its chairman, John Lyons, a retired senior manager with Axa Insurance in Kendal, told the meeting: "It's very easy to be cynical but what came through strongly was the commitment of members to serve their communities - not only their wards but all residents of Cumbria. There was no appetite at all for increasing that (financial) burden."
"Cumbria County Council is, by any definition, a big, big business and many of the roles require substantial responsibilities."