Council leaders have defended a 24 per cent rise in councillors’ allowances after it was formally approved.
With both local and national elections approaching this year, North Tyneside Council has come under fire from opposition parties after members approved the increase – recommended by an independent remuneration panel – which will see nearly £120,000 extra spent a year.
The panel recommended last November that councillors receive a rise to bring them in line with other local authorities – taking their basic allowance from £7,896 a year to £9,759 from April 1 – their first rise since 2009.
The increase – so far refused by four councillors, three Labour and one Conservative – is to help cover expenses including stationery, telephone calls and other additional costs.
Speaking at a full council meeting last November, John Anderson, chairman of the panel, said: “The level of allowances in North Tyneside is too low and this could impact on the authority’s ability to recruit and retain high calibre councillors.”
But opposition parties hit out at the rise, part of the budget approved last week which will see the council make £14m in savings and cut around 150 jobs.
Conservative members are also angry at planned cuts on spending for grounds maintenance, reducing town centre events, raising funeral costs by an average of 11 per cent, raising parking costs, and reducing public swimming times at Tynemouth Pool.
Group leader Coun Judith Wallace said: “These decisions show a warped sense of priorities.
“It is completely wrong for Labour to raise the sum paid to councillors whilst chopping back on tidying and maintaining our local area, and massively raising charges for the bereaved.”
But deputy mayor Bruce Pickard said: “North Tyneside Council has acted on the recommendation of an independent remuneration panel who strongly advised us that if we failed to act the democratic process would be impacted in the borough and that people would be prevented from standing as councillors because of the low level of allowances.
“It is also incorrect to suggest that the increase of members’ allowances has detracted from the services we can deliver to residents.
“Through our sound financial management we are the only authority that has managed not to increase the council tax for our residents.
“The agreed budget will allow a continued investment in the borough – totalling over £84m next year – to deliver better roads, more affordable housing, progress on the seafront regeneration and Spanish City Dome, improved parks, and enable the council and its partners to bring jobs to the Swans site in Wallsend.
“It will also equip the council to achieve the £14m efficiencies it must achieve this year towards a target of £40m to £46m of efficiencies needed over the next three years to work within the reduced government funding.”