EXCLUSIVE: North Herts council leader defends her right to pay rise of 20 per cent

The leader of North Herts District Council Lynda Needham.

The leader of North Herts District Council Lynda Needham. - Credit: Archant

In an exclusive interview with the Comet, a council leader who has awarded herself a 20 per cent pay rise has defended her right to the increase.

North Herts District Council’s Lynda Needham voted herself a total salary hike of £2,900 – which sees her special responsibility allowances rise more than 20 per cent from £12,600 to £15,000. Her basic allowance will rise more than 10 per cent from £4,500 to £5,000 – making a total allowance for the 2017/18 tax year of £20,000 – not including a ‘travelling and subsistence’ allowance for expenses on top.

However Mrs Needham has pointed to the other Herts-based district and borough councillors who have higher allowances, and insisted she is ‘value for money’.

In the latest figures available for the tax year April 2015 to March 2016, Mrs Needham claimed a total of £17,772.53 from the taxpayer – made up of her basic allowance of £4,500, a special responsibility allowance of £12,600, and a travel and subsistence payment of £672.53.

The £672.53 expenses claim included ‘dementia training’ and ‘obesity training’.

Hitting back at critics, Mrs Needham said: “If I look at everyone else in Herts and the ‘family of councils’ I am still the lowest paid.

“I am value for money.”

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When questioned about whether it was morally right to award herself a pay rise in this age of austerity, she replied: “I think in view of the hours I commit to the job I think I don’t have a problem with that.”

When pressed on what junior doctors and nurses working long hours would think about councillors voting themselves pay rises of more than 10 per cent on their basic allowance, Mrs Needham said: “I think you would have to tell me when was the last time they had a pay rise because if it was more than seven years ago – the last time councillors in North Herts had a pay rise – then they have my sympathy.

“But as I have had no idea when the last time junior doctors received a pay rise I can’t comment on that.”

When asked if she was fearful if the electorate would vote her out, she insisted: “I do not take the electorate for granted and I never have done.”

“All we did was agree the independent remuneration panel’s recommendations.

“For those people who will have studied their paper and their report to council, one of the things why it was supported was because the Conservative group has always believed everybody from every walk of life should feel comfortable enough in putting their name forward in becoming a councillor.

“And, therefore, if some people are not doing it as they feel they do not have the sufficient income to be support the expenses that unfortunately come with being a councillor then it is wrong that they shouldn’t have the opportunity.

“It is quite clear from the panel’s recommendations that they have that in mind too.

“They looked at everyone in Herts and in the family of councils we belong and realised our portfolio holders were very much at the bottom of the pay list.”