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Green councillor Stuart Jeffery opposes 'obscene' pay rises for Maidstone councillors

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Maidstone borough councillors have been blasted for voting to give themselves an "obscene" 8% pay rise in middle of a cost of living crisis – costing the taxpayer an extra £124,000.

On Saturday the authority's Conservative leader, Cllr David Burton, proposed to raise the basic members' allowance from £5,218 to £5,635.

Cllr Stuart Jeffery (Green) says he will give his payrise to a food bank
Cllr Stuart Jeffery (Green) says he will give his payrise to a food bank

He put forward that his own leader's allowance, which he receives in addition to the standard member's allowance, should increase from £20,606 to £22,540 – a rise of 9.4%.

The council's newly elected and first ever Green member, Stuart Jeffery, used his first speech in the Town Hall council chamber to oppose the plans.

He described the hike as "obscene", adding: "Times are tough.

"I've been knocking on doors listening to the concerns of residents for the past 17 years but I've never heard from so many people who are struggling to pay their bills or to buy food."

The basic members' allowance is received by all members and supports the work they do as councillors, representing their constituents, travelling around the borough and attending meetings. Those with additional duties and responsibilities receive extra.

Maidstone Borough Council's annual meeting
Maidstone Borough Council's annual meeting

The annual council meeting also heard the council would be switching from a committee system to a cabinet system of governance.

That will lead to the creation of six new positions, all with a "special responsibilities allowance" of £11,270.

They are Communities and Public Engagement led by Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid (Con); Environmental Services - Cllr Martin Round (Con); Housing and Health - Cllr Simon Webb (Con); Leisure and the Arts - Cllr Claudine Russell (Con), and Planning and Infrastructure Cllr Paul Cooper (Con).

Cllr John Perry (Con) who is taking on the role of deputy leader as well as the Corporate Services portfolio will receive £13,524.

Most other allowances were also increased, with the newly elected mayor, Cllr Derek Mortimer (Lib Dem) benefitting from the biggest percentage hike.

Council leader David Burton will receive £28,175
Council leader David Burton will receive £28,175

Cllr Mortimer, who lives in Hawkhurst in the borough of Tunbridge Wells, will receive a special responsibilities allowance of £3,381 – an increase of 23% over that paid to his predecessor as mayor, Cllr Fay Gooch.

Against the advice of the council's Independent Remuneration Panel, Cllr Burton proposed doing away with the existing special responsibility payment to the leader of the opposition.

There are now three opposition groups on the council: the Lib Dems with 12 members, the Independents with 10 members and Labour with five.

Their respective groups leaders – Cllr Clive English, Cllr Steve Munford and Cllr Maureen Cleator – will each receive a group leader's allowance of £2,254.

Cllr Jeffery, as the sole Green party councillor, does not qualify as a "group" which is defined as at least five councillors.

The combined effect of all the changes will increase the annual cost to the public purse of members' allowances by £124,000.

Cllr Jeffery told his colleagues: "I'm sure most of us would find the extra money useful. But two years ago we clapped key workers for keeping us alive, and now those very same key workers and many others too need our help.

"Yet we are being asked not to help struggling residents, but to give ourselves an 8% rise!"

"But it is much worse than this, the 8% accounts for only £23,000 of the additional unfunded costs to the council; there is a further eye-watering increase of £100,000 for special responsibilities.

"A few months ago the park and ride scheme was cancelled because the majority of councillors here thought that you could not afford a similar amount to keep it going."

The new Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Derek Mortimer
The new Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Derek Mortimer

He urged his fellow councillors to vote against the plans.

A few Labour, Independent and Lib Dems did so, but the Conservative group voted en masse to support the increase.

The motion – which had been seconded by the leader of the Lib Dem group, Cllr Clive English – was passed by 38 votes to 12, with three abstentions.

Those voting against the rise included Cllr Stuart Jeffery, Labour members Paul Harper, Margaret Rose, Maureen Cleator, Patrick Coates and Dan Wilkinson, Independents Tom and Janetta Sams, and Lib Dems Tony Harwood and Cynthia Robertson.

Cllr Jeffery pledged to donate the increase in allowance that he would now receive to a food bank.

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