COUNCILLORS in Mid Devon have voted to freeze their pay for a year even though an independent panel recommended a 6.4 per cent rise.

They were asked at a full council meeting to consider a recommendation from three independent experts that the basic allowance rise from £6,000 to £6,387 for the next financial year.

Other proposed changes aimed at helping to cover councillors’ costs and are not salaries, would have seen special responsibility allowances, such as the leader (a position which receives twice the basic rate) or a committee chair, also rise.

The total cost of the increases for the year would have been £21,868 after covering all the basic allowance increases (£16,254) and special responsibility allowance rises (£5,614).

But part-way through the debate, Councillor James Buczkowski (Liberal Democrat, Cullompton St Andrew’s), proposed an amendment that allowances should be frozen for a year and that the independent panel that sets them conduct a thorough review next year on the amount of any rise.

He added that he would like the review body to propose an allowance scheme for three subsequent years to “take us past the election cycle and help depoliticise the issue”.

“I find it challenging to support any increases in allowances when council budgets are being cut, there are increased charges and council tax, and with the cost-of-living crisis putting a strain on residents,” he said.

He acknowledged that councillors were residents too, and would be struggling with the same pressures, but still felt that a freeze was right.

The meeting heard that Mid Devon’s councillors were already on a higher basic allowance than most other district councils, even after those authorities had instituted recent rises.

Earlier this month, Torridge District Council voted to give councillors a 3.9 per cent pay rise to £5,538 after several years of freezes, while East Devon District Council recently voted through a 20 per cent rise in allowances for its councillors to £5,260, the first increase in 15 years.

But Cllr Simon Clist (Liberal Democrat, Upper Culm) said because the recommendations had been put forward by an independent panel he would have “no hesitation” in supporting them, and that it was “very difficult” to compare councils to each other especially as he believed “our workload is considerably more than others”.

He continued: “If you compare us to the last administration, the mean age has reduced quite significantly, and obviously that means more members are working.

“Some members have told me that they have felt unable to participate as much as they would like as they are not remunerated correctly, meaning their earnings didn’t cover their time away at meetings.”

Cllr Josh Wright (Liberal Democrat, Silverton) echoed those comments, stating that the independent panel had already discounted a 32 per cent rise, which would have mimicked a more than £1,900 lump sum given to council staff as part of a recent pay settlement.

“The allowance helps ensure that councillors can carry on their work, and it helps improve diversity,” he said.

“I support the independent review for its proportionate recommendations.”

While other councillors acknowledged that suppressing the allowance could hinder the diversity of elected members, and that the size of it would have a different impact on individual members depending on their financial situation, the majority voted to accept the amendment to freeze allowances for a year.

Supporters of this move noted that the independent panel had only spoken to 16 out of 42 councillors, and confusion that the panel had said it wanted councillors to be in post a year before considering a rise, and yet had proposed one even though the most recent election was in May.

Councillor Frank Letch (Liberal Democrat, Crediton Lawrence), chair of the council, seconded the amendment, which had 21 votes in favour, nine against and two abstentions.

Bradley Gerrard