Tory-backed NHDC allowances increase “unacceptable”, say Labour and Lib-Dems

A LABOUR councillor has branded the decision to increase North Herts District Council (NHDC) councillors’ allowances as “a slap in the face” for public sector workers losing their jobs.

Hitchin Bearton ward cllr Deepak Sangha has spoken out after Conservative councillors voted through recommendations by the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) at a council meeting on Thursday, which could cost NHDC over �65,000 if councillors accept the allowances rise.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats voted to postpone the increases, which includes an 18.5 per cent rise for councillors’ basic allowances from �3,798 to �4,500 and a 68 per cent rise for the leader of the council, believing the recommendations should be deferred until the following year at the earliest.

The decision comes following the IRP’s report which found that NHDC councillors had the lowest allowances when compared with 16 surrounding authorities.

Labour cllr Deepak Sangha said: “For many years our councillors’ allowances have been allowed to fall behind most other councils and, as the IRP recognised, increases are long overdue.

“However, an increase in councillors’ basic allowance of 18.5 per cent and even higher increases in the ruling Cabinet’s allowances is just unacceptable this year.

“It would be a slap in the face for all those public sector workers who are losing their jobs, or having their pay frozen, and to many people who will lose benefits in the government’s recent plans.

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“It would seem incredible to the public at a time when the government and councils are cutting services, and also when politicians do not enjoy much trust.”

Liberal Democrat Hitchin Bearton ward cllr Lisa Courts said: “With the council implementing massive cuts across all services I find this self-centred pay rise totally unacceptable.

“As our residents make tough financial sacrifices during these uncertain economic times, I would have hoped Tory councillors would have recognised this and decided to vote with Lib-Dem councillors to postpone any pay increase.”

Leader of the council Lynda Needham, who voted for the increases along with 32 other Conservative councillors but will not be taking it herself, said: “A lot of members will not be taking this increase, it’s just to give members the opportunity to stop having to pay for their expenses out of their own pockets.

“That’s not to say it wasn’t a very very difficult decision in this present climate, and this was taken after a great deal of thought.”

Cllr Needham also highlighted the need to ensure anyone can become a councillor, adding: “If we look at the cost it’s only one section of the public that can put themselves forward as they can afford to do it.”