Oxfordshire County Council: Councillors vote through their own pay rise

County councillors in Oxfordshire will get a nine per cent rise in allowances despite the leader declaring it “really absurd” that they had to vote on their own pay.

An independent report, the council’s first full pay review for members since December 2014, found that Oxfordshire “had fallen behind” and that an increase in the basic rate “to support a more diverse range of people” and achieve “wider representation” on the council would be appropriate.

It means all 63 county councillors will now be offered £12,000 per year, a £986.23 increase.

Almost all of the roles which attract additional pay will also be subject to increases with the leader of the council set to be offered three times the basic rate, an extra £36,000, which includes a rise of more than £4,000.

County councillors in Oxfordshire will get a nine per cent rise in allowances despite the leader declaring it “really absurd” that they had to vote on their own pay. (File Banbury Guardian image)

Overall, £98,842.98 worth of increases have been advised and sanctioned but it is up to individual councillors whether they take all, some or none of their allowance.

The Fair Deal Alliance coalition of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors that rules in Oxfordshire was split on the matter.

All Liberal Democrat and Green councillors voted for the increases, all bar two Labour councillors voted against - Cllr Damian Haywood (Iffley Fields & St Mary’s) and Cllr Charlie Hicks (Cowley) both abstained - with all Conservatives abstaining. The new pay structure was passed by 22 votes to 12 with 19 abstentions.

Clr Eddie Reeves (Con, Banbury Calthorpe), leader of the opposition, had made the case for the matter to be delayed until the budget in February.

“Either the administration believes this report is independent or it does not. It cannot have it both ways,” he argued.

“Moreover, I have expressed my concern previously over the cabinet’s fiscal incontinence. Given we don’t have to approve a new scheme of allowances until April, there is no need for us to consider this now and I think it is incumbent on the new administration, and the cabinet in particular, to justify their policy package en bloc.”

Cllr Liz Leffman (Lib Dem, Charlbury & Wychwood), leader of the council, said: “I think this is really absurd, that we are standing here deliberating over whether or not we should give ourselves additional allowances.

“It should not be allowed, no one else I know of has to do anything like this. Isn’t this madness? Even our MPs don’t have to do this anymore but we are where we are.

“We can kick this can down the road indefinitely, and that is what we have been doing for the past few years. Frankly it has done us no good.

“We are now being told by an independent review body that we are way adrift of a number of our sister councils across the country and this is just because we refuse to grasp this nettle.

“What are we going to do? Stand here yet again and say ‘we are too humble to take our allowances’. No, we are not. If we do not value ourselves, how can we ask other people to value us?”

She added: “We don’t have to take our allowances but it is not fair for those that feel they don’t need them to deprive those that do. There are people for whom this is important, there are people in this chamber who rely on their allowances.”

Cllr Freddie van Mierlo (Lib Dem, Chalgrove & Watlington) said the allowance rates act as a barrier to prospective councillors of working age and that the rise was about ensuring “the composition of the council is reflective of Oxfordshire”.

He said voting against would "perhaps spare ourselves some uncomfortable headlines, but we will lose so much more", adding: "We would create a system that privileges the wealthy and entrench the council as a hobby shop for retirees… disconnected from the concerns of our residents and lacking the diverse knowledge and skills we need."

However, Cllr Liz Brighouse OBE (Lab, Churchill & Lye Valley), deputy leader of the council, said prospective councillors “never mention the issue of allowances”.

“To say this is stopping diversity and bringing in one group of people, I don’t believe that is necessarily the case,” she said.

“I do believe we need to make it easier for people when they get here, people with children for instance.

“There are many things we could do to reflect the needs of those in our communities that we want to encourage to become councillors but personally, I don’t believe paying them more will necessarily allow that to happen.”

Councillors also voted to have pay rises over the next four years indexed, meaning they will go up with inflation subject to being passed by an annual vote. That part was passed with 36 votes for and none against. There were 16 abstentions from Conservative councillors.