“Undervalued” senior councillors in Walsall will get a rise in allowances after a bid by opposition councillors for a cut failed.
Members voted to accept a small rise in line with the two per cent National Joint Council increase given to officers for special responsibility allowances (SRA), at a full council meeting on Monday, January 7.
An independent panel looking at levels of allowances said Walsall councillors were undervalued and got far less than their counterparts in comparable authorities due to cuts and freezes in the past eight years.
But Labour, backed by the Liberal Democrats, put forward a motion calling for a 20 per cent cut in SRAs – a move they made in July 2018 – arguing public service should not be about monetary return.
Professor Stephen Leach, who sat on the panel, said councillors interviewed by the panel were reluctant to award themselves significant increases given the struggle residents faced in the current economic climate.
He said: “We believe the demands and challenges of being a councillor in Walsall had increased significantly in the past eight years.
“It is much more difficult for councillors at a time of reduced budgets to deal with some of the really difficult decisions they have to take.”
He added increased responsibilities, such as being part of the West Midlands Combined Authority, and the ability to encourage more people to become councillors were further reasons for fairer allowances.
Walsall Council leader Mike Bird told the meeting that his net pay for his work at the authority was £1,700.
He said: “It is a fact that I have always said members here are undervalued in relation to the allowance they receive.
“I’ve spoken to many councillors who have told me ‘we get less than the minimum wage’. Some people will say we should do this for free.
“But the only way this will be addressed is if members salaries across the country are assessed and set by an independent body so people can’t say we have our noses in the trough.”
But Labour leader Sean Coughlan said: “When we talk about the value of what we do, we shouldn’t look at it in terms of monetary value.
“I don’t think people of any party came into this with the first thought of how much they will get paid. We get involved in politics to add value to our communities.
“We will push for a 20 per cent cut in allowances. People are suffering in this borough and we should suffer some of that pain.”
He was backed by Liberal Democrat chief Ian Shires but Councillor Bird hit back and challenged opposition councillors to take a voluntary 20 per cent cut in their pay.
Despite Labour and Liberal Democrats voting against it, the motion for a small pay rise was passed.