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'U-turn' on Kent County Councillors' basic allowance

Kent county councillors have been accused of making a "u-turn" over a decision to award themselves pay rises amid the pandemic.

County Hall's full council met yesterday and agreed an emergency budget to cover the growing coronavirus costs over the last six months. Around £12.8m of spending reductions will be made for the remainder of the financial year.

Kent County Council's conservative members voted for the 4.2% rise to their basic allowances in July
Kent County Council's conservative members voted for the 4.2% rise to their basic allowances in July

This will include a 5% reduction in the basic allowance given to KCC's 81 elected members for their services throughout the year, saving around £55,000 in total.

The move comes three months after Kent county councillors awarded themselves an "awkward" 4.2% pay rise despite previously describing Covid as the biggest crisis faced by the county council since the Second World War.

Margate county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab), who rejected the £656 pay rise along with two Thanet colleagues, said: "I welcome the u-turn by the rest of this council."

Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine (Lab) was the first to send a letter to KCC's head of governance, Benjamin Watts, in June asking for the extra fund to be kept back after saying she felt "uncomfortable" accepting it.

This was soon followed by her Thanet colleagues Cllr Emma Dawson (Con), of Birchington and Cllr Lewis.

Cllr Barry Lewis
Cllr Barry Lewis

Speaking during the virtual full council meeting yesterday, the Margate county councillor added: "I have a wry smile because I don't want to take the moral high ground but congratulations on your u-turn and perhaps in future you listen to people in Thanet more."

However, KCC's deputy leader Peter Oakford (Con), who put forward the proposal to cut councillor allowances, hit back at Cllr Lewis for his remarks.

County Hall's finance cabinet member told the opposition member: "One thing you need to learn is the difference between a 'u-turn' and appropriate decision making at the right time by a progressive political group.

"We are in a very different position than we were and now it is time to make a prudent decision."

Just under £1.3million will be paid out to KCC’s 81 members during this financial year. The revised basic allowance has been set at £15,561.

County councillor Peter Oakford
County councillor Peter Oakford

In the meeting, KCC's main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem) said he "did not disagree" with the budget amendments.

The Maidstone councillor said: "We believe the proposed reduction in member allowances is entirely appropriate in the current circumstances."

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