EXCLUSIVE: Conservative councillors – including leader Lynda Needham and Nicola Harris – may not now accept 10 per cent pay rise after people power influences decision

Lynda Needham

Lynda Needham - Credit: Archant

A council leader who voted herself an allowance increase of more than 20 per cent has admitted she may not accept the hike.

Councillor Nicola Harris

Councillor Nicola Harris - Credit: Archant

North Herts District Council’s Lynda Needham has insisted she is ‘value for money’ after voting herself a total salary rise of £2,900.

Her special responsibility allowance is set to increase from £12,600 to £15,000 – around 19 per cent – while her basic allowance which all councillors receive will go up by 11 per cent from £4,500 to £5,000.

In an exclusive interview with the Comet, Mrs Needham said: “I have not made up my mind yet whether to accept it.

“I have until May to decide but I have not made up my mind yet.

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“When I decide I will also take into account the circumstances that I am the lowest paid [council leader in Herts] – and even if I accept this pay rise I will still be the lowest paid.

“Giving it back is one of the options I have.

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“I approach a working week of 50 hours if I include all the reading I have to do. I couldn’t do this job if I had a day job on top.”

The decision to vote for a basic allowance pay rise of more than 10 per cent was voted through by Conservative councillors on Thursday, despite being opposed by their Labour and Liberal Democrat counterparts.

However, in a further twist another prominent Conservative councillor Nicola Harris, representing the Hitchin Highbury ward, has also said she may consider returning any rise. Speaking to the Comet she explained passionately: “I do this role because I want to make a difference in my town.

“I work extremely hard as a councillor and spend a large number of hours trying to help my community on top of my day job. I don’t do this role for the money.

“I have listened to what local people are saying and if we were to be given the rise in May I will consider donating any pay rise to a local community group in Hitchin.”

Last week’s decision, which saw North Herts Labour group’s leader Frank Radcliffe calling it a ‘scandal’, saw a huge backlash on social media.

Hitchin dad of two and passionate member of action group against austerity, the North Herts People’s Assembly, Martin Burke has since started an online petition calling for the councillors to return the money.

Dad-of-two Martin told the Comet: “The Conservative councillors are laughing at the electorate. We want them to return the money and the more people sign the petition the more we can put pressure on them to do so.

“It is simply unacceptable to vote yourself a pay rise of more than 20 per cent while proposing to close children’s playgrounds.”

But when quizzed on the petition, Mrs Needham added: “What you are saying is there are a group of residents are setting up a petition because there are another group of residents – who make up the independent remuneration panel who have done all the investigating, and who have been sitting and gathering information since last August – decided that due to the amount of effort we put in comparison to other councils that we should have this rise after seven years of no rise at all. One group of residents is calling for one thing against another?”

When the Comet confirmed that was the case she replied: “I have not seen the petition.”

To sign Martin’s petition visit www.you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/nhdc-tories-no-to-greedy-payrise.

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