A ROW over councillors’ expenses has hit the new Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Labour has condemned the ruling Tory group, which dominates the shadow authority, as “greedy and shamefaced” after Conservatives voted to give some of their chairmen a 50% hike in their allowances.
The new scheme, covering everything from mileage to meals as well as allowances for councillors, including opposition group leaders and whips, was up for debate at a Winsford meeting of the council.
The figures have been drawn up by an independent panel chaired by Mrs Helen Carey, who famously had to go to Tony Blair’s aid when as prime minister he was slow-handclapped at a WI conference he was addressing.
Among the six-strong panel are former county council leaders Simon Cussons (Con) and Basil Jeuda (Lab) and the Rev Canon Christopher Burkett from Chester Cathedral.
Labour says most of the panel’s recommendations were accepted but the Tories decided to increase the allowances for some chairmen by 50% above the recommendations, increasing them from £2,000 to £3,000 which they will receive on top of their basic allowance.
“The whole point of asking an independent body to recommend allowance rates is that they can look at the issues involved objectively and without political bias,” said Cllr Justin Madders, the Labour leader of Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council who is also a member of the new authority.
“In my view there needs to be a very compelling reason for the council to depart from those recommendations, particularly when we are talking about an increase of 50%.
“I asked for some kind of justification for this excessive increase at the council meeting but no response was provided by the Tories.”
An amendment was put forward to accept the panel’s recommendations in full. This was supported by the Liberal Democrats and Labour but was defeated.
“In this difficult economic climate with the credit crunch and local government workers striking for a modest increase in their salary, it beggars belief that the Tories could be so shamefaced to award themselves a pay increase of 50% and not even try to justify it,” stormed Cllr Madders.
Tory leader Cllr Mike Jones (Con, Broxton) brushed aside the protest.
“I do hope the 17 Lib Dem and Labour councillors, that is 17 out of 72 members of the new council, will grow up, focus on the important issues and work with our staff to ensure Cheshire West and Chester Council is a success and involve themselves in the important issues that are of interest to our residents and avoid petty party politics.”