Politicians in St Albans have voted against a recommendation to increase members’ allowances by one per cent, following a heated council debate last night.
An independent panel recommended that St Albans District Councillors each take a 1 per cent increase this year in their basic allowances including special responsibility allowances and child care dependent allowances.
During the heated debate at full council, the ruling Conservative party argued for a freeze instead of an increase. District council leader Councillor Julian Daly said he would "not feel comfortable" accepting an increase in times of economic struggle.
However Liberal Democrat party leader Councillor Chris White argued councillors should respect the recommendations of the Independent Remuneration Panel and said the issue should be discussed in more depth at a later stage.
Conservative politician councillor Salih Gaygusuz said he was disappointed at the suggestion. He said: "I totally disagree as a matter of principle. This at the wrong time and it is the wrong thing to do. If we cannot afford to provide people with free on-street parking, surely we cannot afford to give them extra pay."
This was supported by Councillor Daniel Chichester-Miles, who said: "Many people in this council have a job, some of them are not glamorous or highly paid, but this cannot be justified when public services are being cut.
"I have a lot of respect for the Independent Remuneration Panel, who have clearly put a lot of work into this. However, I would not feel comfortable with this increase - £3,000 is excessive."
However his Conservative colleague Councillor Maxine Crawley said: "We should respect the Remuneration Panel’s decision.
"If people don’t want to accept they can always themselves give it to good causes. No one is forced to keep it - they can do what they like with it.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Brazier argued an increase in members’ allowances may encourage people in low paid employment to become local councillors.
He said: "An increase could encourage people that aren’t working or doing low paid jobs to become a local councillor. It would give people an opportunity to represent the different areas in our district.
"If we are going to have a Remuneration Panel we should accept their recommendations."
City councillors are currently paid a basic allowance of £5,535 a year. Councillors sitting in the ruling cabinet get a special responsibility allowance of £9,485 on top of their basic allowance.
Chairmen of various council committees also get special responsibility allowances of either £3,105 or £2,965.
The leaders of the different parties get an extra £107 per councillor in their group.
During discussions opposition parties supported each other when agreeing an increase in allowances would be inappropriate.
Labour Councillor Eileen Harris said: "I could not accept this. There are lots of good ways we can spend that money. There are some people here that have very good jobs and don’t need it."
While her colleague Councillor Dreda Gordon said: "I think it is difficult making a one per cent increase at when we are making cuts to public services. The increase is questionable because I don’t think the service that the council is providing is a great one.
While Labour Councillor Jacob Quagliozzi said he wouldn’t be able to ‘look his residents in the eyes’ at a time of rising rents and cuts.
The debate was branded an "absolute disgrace and disaster" by Labour Councillor Malachy Pakenham, who said he was embarrassed councillors were indulged in discussing self interests rather than putting their efforts in to important issues.
Following a vote, members’ allowances will not be increased.