MEMBERS of the borough council – which is under pressure to make savings after budgets were slashed – last week voted against plans to reduce their personal allowance.
The Joint Independent Remuneration Panel (JIRP) had suggested cutting the basic allowance from £5,500 per annum to £5,000. The body was established in 2001 to make recommendations on members’ allowances for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council plus Sevenoaks and Tonbridge & Malling councils.
If the cuts to the basic allowance were implemented, along with other changes in supplementary allowances, it would have shaved £20,000 from the current annual allowance budget of £360,000.
However, in the final full council meeting of the year on December 7, councillors, who are not obliged to accept the recommendation, voted in favour of keeping the current allowance structure.
Out of the 45 councillors eligible to vote, 26 opted for the status quo, 12 abstained and 7 voted in favour of a cut.
The debate proved a divisive issue among the majority Conservative Party, while members of both the Liberal Democrats and Labour sought to reduce the allowance.
Concern over reputational damage to the council was evident, with several councillors repeating a warning by Cllr Bob Backhouse that the council risked being ‘monstored by the media’ if it rejected the recommendation.
Others arguing for a cut said it would show ‘solidarity’ with council staff who are facing a £292,000 reduction to their payroll in the next budget and would be more in keeping with ‘austerity’.
However, those voting in favour of maintaining the current allowance said it helped attract a more diverse talent pool, ensure the council is not dominated by a self-funding elite and accurately reflects the true working hours of members.