A proposal to raise basic allowances from £11,146 to £11,938 was passed at a full Walsall Council meeting on February 25, where a 4.99 per cent council tax rise and budget cuts had been agreed.
It was also decided that special responsibility allowances (SRA) for senior members including the council leader, his deputy and cabinet members, opposition group leaders and committee chairs will rise sharply – up to 50 per cent in some cases.
Walsall Council boss Mike Bird also confirmed more than £1 million had been set aside in the budget for reinstating a one per cent pay rise for officers that had been taken out in the 2017/18 budget under the previous administration.
Members of the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat groups voted against the rises for councillors saying it was the wrong time to implement them.
But Councillor Bird defended the decision and challenged those opposing it to not claim it when it comes into effect in April. He also said the rises, recommended by an independent panel, were fair given the huge increase in workloads – particularly during the pandemic.
All three party leaders agreed, however, that it was unfair to ask members to vote on their own pay and called on the Government to set up an independent system.
The panel, led by Professor Stephen Leach, said allowances in Walsall had been frozen for almost all of the past 10 years, barring one in line with inflation rise in 2019.
Their report said councillors had effectively had a pay cut of 22 per cent since 2011 and senior members were paid much less than their counterparts in comparative authorities.
Councillor Bird said: “There aren’t people queuing up to be elected members.
“I know through this pandemic that weekends and holidays are something of the past, not only for me, but for those members in the cabinet or those taking part in the scrutiny process.
“There will be those that will criticise the move being made tonight but I do believe we should not put people who are on a low income at a disadvantage.
“You have to be able to be here during working hours. In many cases, you have to reduce your time at work to enable you to do that.
“I’ve always said people should be paid the rate for the job. If the leader of the day puts in the hours that I have been during the last 12-18 months, it works out to about £12.50 an hour and that’s only just above the living wage.”
Walsall Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz said: “Allowances are always a difficult and controversial decision as it involves those of us benefiting from an increase to actually vote on it.
“As the system is wrong and not the way we would want it I believe this is not the right time to bring this to council.”
Councillor Ian Shires, Liberal Democrat leader, added: “We shouldn’t be the ones that are voting for our own remuneration. It is a conflict of interest.
“Having said that, i think that it is wrong to make this move when so many people out there have lost jobs and are on reduced money.”
But Councillor Bird said: “No doubt everyone who votes against it won’t claim it. Don’t be hypocritical.
“If you are going to voter against it, make it public that you are not going to claim it.
“But not only do I respect the work that members do but I’ve heard all the comments made about the work officers do.
“I have instructed the chief executive to convene a special meeting of the personnel committee when this administration will repatriate the one per cent taken off all employees for the 2017/18 budget.
“We are all in this together and it is in appreciation of all the efforts they have been putting in through this pandemic.”