Published: 12:45, 13 July 2017
County councillors have voted themselves a staggering 15% increase in their allowances.
The increased was put forward at a full council meeting today and ignores the recommendations of an independent panel, which has the job of proposing what councillors should be eligible for.
That panel proposed that the authority’s 81 members should accept a 1.5% increase in their basic allowance, which would mean a rise to £13,000 from £12,805.
That increase would restore the allowance to the level it was in 2009.
But Conservative council leader Paul Carter defended the huge increase by arguing that members had not had any increase in their allowances since 2008.
Cllr Carter said: "We are making heavy weather of this. Seven years ago we reduced special allowances. We have increased staff pay by 18%... I do not think the increase is any way unreasonable.
"Why should we have to tolerate a freeze? It has not reflected the cost of living increase everyone else has had."
A 15% rise on the basic allowance is worth an extra £1,920. It is thought however that the 15% increase will also apply to those with so-called special responsibility allowances, including cabinet members who currently get £27,371.
The move will provoke a furious political row and it is understood that not all Conservative councillors agree with the increase.
The bill for allowances paid to all councillors in 2015-16 was £1,640,855 but with travel costs added came to £1,767,838.
Speaking ahead of today's meeting, the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group Cllr Rob Bird said: "Councillors put themselves forward for election in May knowing the level of allowances they could expect.
"It is not acceptable for councillors to vote through a substantial increase in their allowances within a couple of months of coming into office."
He said his party would support a 1.5% increase.
"The independent Panel has gone to great lengths to determine the appropriate level of remuneration for councillors.
"We are not obliged to follow the panel's recommendations but why wouldn't we?" - Leader of the Liberal Democrats at Kent County Council Cllr Rob Bird
"They have listened to the views of many members and former members. They have examined the remuneration levels set by other local authorities, they have taken into account the economic background.
"We are not obliged to follow the panel's recommendations but why wouldn't we? Reality is that very few people set their own pay." "There is a good reason we have a panel and members should think very carefully before we agree this."Labour's Barry Lewis said: "We got voted in knowing what our allowances would be, who is going to pay? It will be the residents and hard-working families. It is a sham. I will only vote for this if workers get 15%. It is one rule for members and one for workers."
Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) said: "I am astonished. There is a good reason we have an independent panel."
Labour Cllr Tam Dhesi added: "The only word I can think of is 'preposterous' if we vote this through it will be seen as nothing less than having our snouts in the trough."
Cllr Karen Constantine, who also represents Labour, said: "We will be seen as fat cats and that is unfortunate. Is this debate about achieiving diversity and equality or just thinly disguised greed?"
Meanwhile Conservative Cllr Paul Cooper said: "There has been no increase for eight years. Over that time staff have received an 18% increase, we should have the same."
Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con) says it was a mistake not to index-link allowances back in 2008. "I cannot support the rise. People of Kent will be astonished that we can set our own pay. They will not understand that we can set our own pay," he said.