Call for 12-month freeze in Central Bedfordshire councillors' allowances dubbed ‘politically motivated’

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Around £50,000 that could have been saved by freezing Central Bedfordshire councillors’ allowances for 12 months could be spent providing better free school meals, a meeting heard.

But a motion to sacrifice any increase this year was described as “politically motivated” by the Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association and former Central Bedfordshire Council leader James Jamieson.

And Independent Aspley and Woburn councillor John Baker’s motion was defeated after a vote at a full council meeting on September 22.

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He asked: “This council agrees it would be inappropriate for any inflationary increase in members’ allowances in the current climate of high inflation, which councillors should forgo for 2022/23.

Central Beds Council HQ and Cllr John BakerCentral Beds Council HQ and Cllr John Baker
Central Beds Council HQ and Cllr John Baker

“It’s a 5% increase without a specific job, that’s an extra £575 a year,” he said. “For a scrutiny committee chairman that’s a further £1,131 annually, a deputy cabinet member £900 a year, and a cabinet member £1,557.

“And the member with the title deputy leader will receive a taxpayer handout of an additional £1,819.

“This motion is straightforward. We recognise hard times and reject any increase in our allowances this financial year.

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“Not a single member of this council will be a penny worse off and we save £50,000, which we could invest in helping people less fortunate than ourselves.”

Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker seconded the motion, saying: “In these difficult times, we need to lead by example. It seems vulgar to me to even consider taking an extra 5% rise in my allowance.

“We could put that £50,000 as a contribution towards paying extra for our children to have better free school meals.”

Conservative Stotfold and Langford councillor Steve Dixon referred to the unions rejecting the most recent offer, warning: “It’s somewhat premature to be judging this right here, right now.

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“I believe every member should make their own choice. Not every member takes all of their allowances here.”

Independent Linslade councillor Victoria Harvey said: “I’m conscious of the number of people who cut down on their work to be a councillor and struggle to pay the bills, so they can give the time.

“The whole point of this allowance is to allow you the time. We need to give anyone who wants to stand up for their local residents and do their best the opportunity to do it.

“It’s perfectly easy if you feel comfortable enough to give that money back to the council or to any charity. But I certainly know people for whom every single penny counts.”

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Councillor Jamieson explained: “Members’ allowances are generally agreed for the term of the council and linked to officers’ pay, which is a common practice in other councils.

“The way to achieve a successful and functioning democracy is to ensure everyone can access it.

“We want that wide range of candidates prepared to give up their time. It’s not pay. Many give up paid earnings to have time to become a councillor.

“It’s part of a series of motions the opposition has brought forward seeking to attack the idea of allowances for councillors. It’s politically motivated. I don’t believe it’s right to restrict councillors to those retired and wealthy.”