In the face of angry protests outside Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County councillors have voted themselves a massive 25 per cent pay rise. According to a review panel, councillors were ‘undervalued’ on their existing allowances and a rise to £9,500 was needed to allow ‘local democracy to prosper’. Council Leader Nick Clarke will be even better off. From £29,246, he will now take home £38,000 a year with his ‘special responsibility allowance.’
Councillors cannot justify these increases, especially at a time of supposed public spending restraint.
The total increase in spending is not small. Conservative-majority Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) has 69 local representatives, and with extra payments made to Cabinet members, leaders and spokesmen of all parties, the total amount set aside for allowances will rise by £166,000 to £929,000 a year.
Put into context, CCC is trying to make £161 million of necessary spending cuts over the next five years. Politicians will not convince voters of the importance of savings if they cut with one hand and feather their own nest with the other.
Councillors have explained away their pay hike as the recommendation of an independent review panel, a public-spirited attempt to attract candidates of more diverse backgrounds into local politics. Of course, councils should make it attractive for ordinary people to become councillors. But while other council workers are facing redundancy, largesse for elected officials is unjustifiable.
Instead Cambridgeshire councillors should follow the lead of their chief executive, Mark Lloyd, who took a voluntary 5 per cent pay cut in July. Although he still earns an excessive £186,167, he was right to lead from the front.
From a blog he wrote about Mark Lloyd’s voluntary pay cut, Council Leader Nick Clarke knows the weakness of his own position:
‘One of the most important characteristics of a really good leader, I’ve always felt, is the ability to lead by example.
And when residents are finding life tough, and tightening their belts because money is tight, council’s [sic] can’t be out of step with what the people who pay for services are experiencing.’
Given these comments, Nick Clarke will no doubt forego his extra £9,000, and Cambridgeshire councillors will reverse this pay hike at the earliest possible moment.