CONWY council’s leader defended his cabinet and their pay after some backbenchers called for senior councillor positions and salaries to be cut.
At a democratic services committee meeting at Bodlondeb, councillors noted a proposed pay rise before a final decision will be made at a future full council meeting.
The salary increase is set by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales (IRPW), not Conwy itself, although individual councillors can choose not to accept the amount.
This means a councillor’s basic salary will rise from £16,800 a year to £17,600 a year – with the leader set to receive £59,400, rising from £56,700.
The deputy leader’s pay will also rise to £41,580 from £39,690, and cabinet members will be paid £35,640, rising from £34,020.
Civic heads will also see their pay increase from £25,593 to £26,400.
The pay rises are controversial in light of Conwy opting to up council tax by 9.9% whilst cutting most services’ budgets by 10%.
Cllr David Carr and Cllr Anne McCaffrey proposed that the committee recommended that council looked at cutting extra allowances paid to all committee chairs, but this was thrown out.
Instead the committee voted to note the proposed pay rise but recommended the council looked at cutting the extra allowances paid to the chair of the democratic services committee and the vice chair of the council.
But discussions got heated when some councillors said the cabinet should look at cutting its numbers down from ten and even suggested the leader opt to cut the deputy leader’s pay.
Conwy’s leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey, though, said he needed a strong cabinet, which meant positions and pay needed to be protected.
“We have faced enormous challenges,” said Cllr McCoubrey.
“We have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions. But I want to get paid to do my job properly, and driving forward we need to keep a really close watch on every penny we spend in the year coming up.
“In terms of the payment to the deputy leader, the world has changed.”
Cllr McCoubrey then listed a long list of his responsibilities and said: “There are an awful lot of calls that take me away from this chamber.
So the role of deputy leader is incredibly important.
“If I can’t make these meetings, I need someone who represents this council really well and fights for Conwy’s share.”
Cllr McCoubrey then warned of a ‘false economy’, adding: “We need to be very careful that we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater – it’s a knee-jerk reaction. We have to do things in a careful and reasonable manner and provide good services for our residents.”
But Cllr David Carr said: “This council has just put (made Conwy) the highest council tax (rise) in Wales. We have no reserves.
“If it was payment by results, the public is right: we shouldn’t be getting a pay rise.”
Committee chair Cllr Cathy Augustine also warned councillors about balancing cost and value and reminded the committee that percentage increases in council tax didn’t equate to actual sums, arguing council tax remained higher in Gwynedd.
Cllr Anne McCaffrey said it was ‘hypocritical’ for councillors not to make cuts when councils services were, insisting councillors had a ‘moral responsibility’ to make financial savings.
“It doesn’t sit right with me,” she said.
Cllr Mandy Hawkins reminded councillors they could opt not to accept the pay rise on an individual basis but recognised the salary was important to ensure people from all walks of life stood for council.
“I won’t be accepting the pay rise,” she said.
Cllr Cathy Augustine said councillors earned the same as nurses and deserved the extra sums, due to the extra work.
“We talk about how this cost-of-living crisis has hit people,” she said.
“It has hit many people who are elected members, some more than others.”
She summarised: “Rule of thumb: three days a week, and pro-rata-ed up that’s the equivalent (earnings) of a newly qualified nurse.
Probably many of us do far more (days than three) than that, and remember lots of our meetings are anti-social hours.”
Cllr Paul Luckock agreed that councillors worked hard for a ‘modest sum’, admitting he had changed his opinion since being elected.
“It (the role) has been much more demanding than I anticipated, to be honest,” he said.
He added: “I’ll be absolutely transparent. I shall be taking the £17,600 because I think I work pretty hard for that modest salary.”
The increases proposed by the IRPW will be debated and voted upon further at a future full council meeting.