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Vote next month on increasing allowances

Cheshire East councillors, who are currently consulting on library closures to save money, are to vote next month on increasing their basic allowances by £500 a year.

The move came four months after they considered freezing it for 2023/24 (writes local democracy reporter Belinda Ryan).

On Thursday, the Corporate Policy Committee agreed to recommend to full council that the basic allowance be increased by £500 and be backdated for 2022/3.

This was not agreed by the five Conservative members.

There was some confusion at Thursday’s meeting because, at February’s meeting, councillors had spoken in favour of a proposal in the budget to “consider a freeze on members’ allowances” for 23/24 stating, in a cost of living crisis, “this seemed right”.

Since then they have received the report from the external independent remuneration panel, which recommended, among other things, the basic allowance be increased by a flat rate of £500 and applied retrospectively for 2022/23.

That targeted review had been requested by the council in June 2021.

Coun Janet Clowes (Wybunbury, pictured) told the committee: “My understanding was that, as part of our discussions prior to budget, the decision was made that we would not be raising member allowances this year.”

Brian Reed, head of democratic services, said the report related to the 2022/3 year.

Coun Craig Browne (Alderley Edge) told the meeting: “The basic allowance for members has not increased from its current £12,351 a year since 1st April, 2019.”

He said there had been a cost of living increase of 24.39% since then “so we can say members’ allowances over that period have, in real terms, reduced by almost a quarter”.

He added: “As has been pointed out, we have previously agreed to freeze allowances because we felt that during the depths of the global pandemic and the cost of living crisis it was the right thing to do, but we also agreed that freeze could not continue forever.”

He said there was now a lot of younger councillors and they had mortgages to pay and would have been equally affected by the cost of living crisis.

“There’s never going to be a good time to talk about increasing payments to members, but I can’t think of any other occupation where people would think it’s ok to work for five years without even being given a cost of living pay rise and I don’t think most of our residents would think that was ok either,” said Coun Browne.

Coun Mark Goldsmith (Wilmslow) said: “No-one becomes a councillor for the pay but the pay does allow some people to become councillors.”

He added: “Nobody likes paying councillors or MPs money, but it is necessary if you want to have a diverse range of people sitting and representing the public.”

Macclesfield councillor Nick Mannion (Lab) said: “It’s never a popular move with residents when they see councillors voting themselves a pay rise, because that’s how it will be spun by some, but we have a duty to make sure those 80-odd Cheshire East councillors reflect, as closely as possible, the communities we serve across Cheshire East.”

A final decision on the eight recommendations – which includes allowances for parental leave for councillors – will be taken by full council on 19th July.

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