District councillors in Cherwell District Council are set to benefit from a 2.75 per cent rise to their annual allowances, as recommended by an independent panel.
The 2.75 per cent increase, which kicks in from April, will see the standard allowance for councillors rise from £4,704 to £4,836 per year.
The same percentage will apply to the uplifts for positions of responsibility, including that of the council leader, which now pushes past £15,000 per year.
Leader Councillor Barry Wood (Con, Fringford & Heyfords) said suitable allowances were important to ensure that no one inclined to stand for election was put off by financial considerations and addressed potential concerns members may have on taking more money.
“There is no point in having a panel if you don’t take on board what it says; that is the whole point,” he said.
“As individuals, if you feel the increase is not appropriate, then you are not obliged to take it. You can ask the council not to pay it; that is open to you, or you can accept the increase and make a donation to charity if you feel that is more appropriate.
“One of the comments from a new councillor to the panel was that they didn’t know there were member allowances until after they were elected. I think that was the case for most of us. Most of us did not stand for election to receive an allowance.
“Equally, it is important that no one is debarred from standing for election because it would affect their ability to make ends meet.
“I think it is right that there is an allowance, so people are able to make a commitment to local government and fulfil their duties. This chamber would be weakened if we did not do that.”
Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and independent councillors all backed the rise, but Labour members abstained – decided not to vote either way – although one noted that there will be no increase in supplementary funding for childcare and dependent relative care.
Councillors can claim up to £10 per hour for childcare and £20 per hour for dependent care for a maximum of 40 hours per month. Receipts must be submitted, and the money cannot go to a member of a councillor’s household.
The rate is unchanged from the current year, prompting Councillor Rebecca Biegel (Lab, Banbury Grimsbury & Hightown) to say: “Bearing in mind the current situation we have, I worry this may have an adverse effect on those with caring responsibilities, who are often, but not always, women.
“I wonder whether this will affect inclusivity for current and future councillors.”
Councillor Wood urged her or those affected to make that case. “Very often, there are connections between our individual packages of allowance and what other councils make.
“Sometimes it is not a straightforward, easy fix, but I think you make a good point, and it is one we should follow up on,” he said.
“I would add that it is possible for officers or me to request an additional meeting of the panel. If there is a mini-crisis that needs to be addressed, then that can be referred to me because it may be something you don’t want to leave for a full 12 months.”