Two more county councillors representing Thanet say they have rejected the councillors’ allowance rise of more than 4% amid the coronavirus crisis.
Conservative councillor Emma Dawson, representing Birchington and rural division, and labour councillor Barry Lewis, for Margate, have both notified the county council that they are declining to take the ‘pay’ increase.
They join Labour’s Karen Constantine, for Ramsgate, who 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.
Some 15 KCC members 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.
Cllr dawson said: “I have rejected the recent KCC allowance increase this morning. I will not be receiving the new increase because of my views on the current economic crises. The previous increase I had supported, although I donated in part to charity. I believed at the time that the increase was bringing allowances back in line with inflation as it had been frozen prior over a number of years.
“The allowance for back benchers is however, relatively low and often the allowance was not attracting the younger generation to stand as affordability of living costs could not be met. This was something I spoke about at the county council meeting at the time and about moving forward with regards to younger representatives at county level and having a broader balance of male and female members.
“The fundamental reason behind me rejecting my new increase this time is that I am certainly aware of the current times, during and post pandemic many families are finding it hard and will be hit hard with job losses, loss of businesses and furloughed on a reduced salary, some may not even be taken back into work. Many are struggling to meet their household bill payments. The economy is at a critical low point which will require time, effort and resilience to dig our way out of the huge hole.
“It is a personal view that I hold and i do not speak on behalf of any other councillors.”
Cllr Lewis says he too has informed the authority that he will not be taking the increase.
He said: “After discussions with my local residents I understand that by taking the pay rise I would not be representing their views. My constituents have, and will continue, to suffer hardships through the pandemic. As the PM said ‘we are all in this together.’”
Around £1.3million will be paid out to KCC’s 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.
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.
Additional information via Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan