By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A Kent county councillor has declined an allowance rise of more than 4% amid the coronavirus crisis.
Thanet councillor Karen Constantine (Lab) said she felt “uncomfortable” in taking the additional £656 per year as millions of people across the UK are furloughed or made redundant and businesses are going under during the lockdown.
She wrote to KCC’s head of governance Benjamin Watts to ask for the extra funds to be kept back just hours after Kent County Council’s full council voted through a 4.2% increase during a virtual public meeting on Wednesday.
Cllr Constantine told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There is such a a rising tide of unemployment in my division and I see so many people struggling day to day to get back on their feet.
“I could not in good conscience accept the pay increase and I shall continue to represent the residents here to the best of my ability.”
Cllr Constantine was one of 15 KCC members who abstained during the key vote, including five Labour councillors, seven Liberal Democrats, two Conservatives and one Green party member.
A basic allowance refers to the amount of cash that councillors receive from KCC for their services throughout the year. KCC says basic allowances are not “salaries” because councillors are not full time employees.
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.
Around £1.3million will be paid out to its 81 members. The latest increase will see the amount they receive rise from £15,561 to £16,217 for each of them.
Several councillors who abstained are seeking to donate their cash to local charities within their wards while others felt it was unethical to support a motion to increase their pay amid the public health emergency.
Ashford county councillor George Kooware (Lib Dem) said he would donate his £656 to Brookfield Baptist Church, which is located within his county division.
Maidstone county councillor Gary Cooke (Con), one of two Tory councillors to abstain, will donate his funds to a local charity. He said: “If you watch the pennies, the pounds will likely take care of themselves and every penny counts. I felt uncomfortable voting for it.”
Margate county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab), who will be donating his funds to good causes within his district, said: “I think the system stinks that councillors are forced to vote for their own pay themselves.”
West Malling county councillor Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) who also abstained and will send her cash to local food banks, said: “If I did not accept that percentage rise then I would be putting my own residents at a disadvantage.”
Maidstone county councillor Ian Chittenden (Lib Dem) said cash would be spent on Liberal Democrat newsletters while Folkestone county councillor Martin Whybrow (Green) said his would go to people working for charities on the frontline.
He added: “At the end of the day councillors have to be remunerated. Not to do so would wipe out a huge swathe of elected members.”
KCC opposition leader Rob Bird (Lib Dem) said he planned to donate cash to local charities while the remaining members have been contacted for comment.
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 residents’ frustrations.
After the meeting, the former KCC cabinet member said: “We try to detach ourselves from the process as much as possible.”