By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A controversial pay increase of more than 4% for Kent county councillors has been approved.
Kent County Council members voted for the 4.2% rise to their basic allowances during County Hall’s first virtual full council meeting amid the coronavirus crisis. A total of £1.3million will be paid out to its 81 members.
Silence filled the online chamber as none of the councillors wished to speak about the rise in the public meeting. Technical glitches disrupted the key vote in mid-session but the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Labour, Lib Dem and Green party members abstained along with two Tories.
KCC’s leader Roger Gough (Con), who will see his pay rise from £66,000 to £70,000 for this financial year, described the system as “awkward” for members involved and said he could understand resident’s frustrations.
After the meeting, the former KCC cabinet member said: “We try to detach ourselves from the process as much as possible.”
A basic allowance refers to the amount of cash that councillors receive from KCC for their services throughout the year. The latest increase will see this rise from £15,561 to £16,217 for each elected member.
Many KCC councillors receive higher pay for taking on extra responsibilities, such as becoming a committee chairman or cabinet member. This is reviewed annually and elected members vote on the proposal at full council.
KCC has told that Local Democracy Reporting Service basic allowances are not “salaries” because councillors are not full time employees.
However, the increases have not been without controversy. It was under the spotlight in 2017 when former leader Paul Carter (Con) proposed to enlarge the basic rate of pay by 15% in a single year. This was voted in by councillors.
Following this it was agreed, also in 2017, that future increases in members allowances should be linked to the same percentage rise awarded to all council staff.
The latest rise has proven contentious given the financial difficulties faced at County Hall amid the public health emergency with the coronavirus.
KCC’s administration has recently said it will need at least an extra £50million from Boris Johnson’s Government to cover the growing costs of Covid over the next 12 months, which is forecast to be £130m at this stage.
After the meeting, KCC’s Labour group leader Dara Farell said members were unable to set their own pay while KCC’s main opposition leader Rob Bird (Lib Dem) added: “The rise is part of formula that was agreed in 2017 and there is not much that we can do about it.”
However, Benjamin Watts, KCC’s head of governance, said the pay rise could be refused, adding: “The increase applies to all members unless they explicitly to write to ask for it to be kept back.”
Cllr Shellina Prendergast (Con), KCC’s cabinet member for communications, complimented the administration for its “transparent” approach.
Entry level officer salaries will increase to £18,039 which equates to £9.35 per hour. This is above the national set limit of £8.72 an hour for people aged 25 and over. This was also endorsed by the full council team.
On officer pay increase, she added: “There is an expectation that people are awarded for delivery in their role.
“We know that delivery has never been tested quite as much as it has been in recent months and I know we are all grateful to our workforce for incredible effort.”