Cornish councillors have reacted to the national mood of austerity by cutting their own pay—or more properly, not taking increased allowances they had voted for back in October. The u-turn motion to freeze their allowances was tabled last month and passed this week.
‘[We] just feel strongly that now is not the time to increase allowances when budgets are under pressure like never before,’ said the proposing councillor, Alec Robertson. ‘Any increases can only be bought at a cost of council jobs and services.’
The timing, however, may have more to do with electioneering, claims opposition councillors, saying it was ‘all to do with the election in 78 days time.’ It was also argued that allowances had not increased for eight years and it was needed to attract younger councillors. The original proposal was to raise the basic allowance from £12,000 to £14,600, less than the £16,000 recommended by an independent panel.
‘The original decision to increase allowances was very unpopular and for very good reasons,’ admitted Cllr Robertson. ‘It is the wrong time to do it. We can't do it without it costing council jobs and services and that is too high a price to pay.’ His supporters in the council agreed. ‘With the budgets under such pressure,’ said one, ‘the £310,000 that this will save will be much better used in supporting essential services for this council.’
One wonders, however, if is also intended to soften their recent proposal to increase council tax by 1.97%, just beneath the threshold needed to trigger a popular vote. Still, whatever the real reason behind the decision, any freeze in non-essential council expenditure is to be applauded.
This decision comes hot on the heels of Cornish councillors choosing a new Chief Executive on a salary scaled back by 21%. The previous Chief Executive had been tempted away by a new position in New Zealand and his basic annual salary of £200,000 will now be replaced by one closer to £158,000 for his successor. That’s more like it!