CONWY councillors debated their pay rise after draft figures were set by an independent panel.
Whilst most councillors are getting just over £1,000 a year extra, the leader’s pay packet will increase by over £3,500 and the deputy leader’s by over £2,500.
Under the proposals, cabinet members will get over £2,150 a year more. These increases will see rates rise by about six per cent across the board.
The Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales (IRPW) has issued its draft annual report, setting the range and level of payments for councillors for the financial year 2024/25.
At a meeting at Bodlondeb, Conwy’s democratic services committee reviewed the draft report and agreed to respond to the proposals before the IRPW publishes its final report before 28 February 2024.
Whilst the council can respond to the proposed rise, it is the IRPW that sets the final figures.
Councillors, though, can refuse the rise on an individual basis.
Under the proposals, councillors’ basic salary is set to increase from £17,600 to £18,666.
Whilst the leader’s pay will increase from £59,400 to £62,998, the deputy leader’s salary will also increase from £41,580 to £44,099.
Cabinet members will enjoy a pay rise too, their wage increasing from £35,640 to £37,799.
Councillors voted to send the committee’s thoughts on the subject to the panel before the final figures are agreed.
The debate follows a 9.9% council tax increase last year and 10% council-wide service cuts – with even schools being asked to slash budgets by 5%.
Cllr Paul Luckock welcomed the pay rise.
“Chware teg – the reason I say ‘fair play’ is I think the panel has done a good job on this,” he said.
“I’m not a councillor that is squeamish about accepting my pay or welcoming this proposed increase.
“I think I and most councillors work very hard for their constituents, their residents. They put in many more hours than the 20 hours, the three days, which is suggested (in the report).”
Cllr Austin Roberts disagreed but pointed out that pay increases were important because they encouraged younger councillors and diversity.
“As someone who last year was having to go live on Radio Cymru and explain to people why we were increasing the (council) tax by nearly 10% last year, I would find it very difficult to go on the radio again at the end of March and face people when we increase our pay,” he said.
“So we have to be very careful. We are living in a difficult time where you’ve got the cost of living and so on, and fuel is still increasing.
“It is difficult for someone to be a councillor if they are young because you can’t live on what we get, and I understand that, but until central government, be that in Cardiff or in London, until they realise this and give money for pay rises for councillors, I doubt that I can support this.”
Cllr Thomas Montgomery said he was Conwy’s youngest councillor and agreed, suggesting other ways could be used to attract younger people into standing for council, including improving people’s work/life balance.
“I take the same view as Cllr Austin (Roberts) on this,” he said.
“I don’t see how with the expected budget of next year, looking at (council) tax increases and service cuts, how I could explain to my residents why I voted to increase my entitlement while seeing their tax bill rise and services reduced.”
Cllr Sian Grady added: “It is imperative that all councils go back to the Senedd and tell them how difficult it is for us in this position because I think it’s an awful position to be in.
“Because I know as individual councillors, we can refuse the rise, but I think that puts pressure on people, and obviously we’re not in it for the money, but some people don’t have other income, and to put pressure on individuals to refuse some of that money when they are in the same position as our residents – they are also in a cost-of-living crisis and also struggling.”
Cllr Cathy Augustine said: “We do need to understand about the value we provide to our residents, and hopefully that will be how they see that, not just a black and white pay rise, as we’ve seen from reporting last year.”
Cllr Bernice McLoughlin added: “When it comes to my town councillor allowance, I can’t remember I have claimed that allowance. The money instead goes to the food bank, either to buy extras for Christmas or for Easter. By doing it that way, and by doing it on the town council’s credit card, I actually increase the amount of money I can spend at the food bank at two difficult times.”
Cllr Chris Brockley also said it was unfair that councillors were being made to comment on their own pay rise.
“My recommendation would be that we very strongly indicate to Welsh Government and the panel that either you set these rates or you don’t,” he said.
“You can’t ask us to do this on those recommendations. It’s unfair. It’s unfair to many people here who are representing their communities and held accountable by their communities.”
He added, “It is either worth that money or not. Don’t ask us to choose whether it’s worth that money or not.”
But Cllr Chris Cater was grateful the pay rise was set externally and pointed to the ‘old days’ when councillors had to set the amount themselves.
“Of course, this is an independent remuneration panel, and thank goodness we’ve got it because I remember the old days,” he said.
“I noticed Goronwy (Cllr Edwards) is in the meeting today, and he and I will remember days when full council used to set the increase or otherwise for councillors’ remuneration, and it used to be a terrible meeting, and really that was not fair on our residents that we were setting our own increases.
“So really I’m so grateful that we’ve got this independent remuneration panel, and I’m quite happy to defend its findings. I personally don’t take the full amount. I refer to that diversity in democracy meeting that we had – and if you are really going to broaden out democracy and have councillors coming from all sorts of walks of life and backgrounds and so on, you are going to have to give them a decent remuneration.”
Cllr Sam Cotton added: “Some people have lots of different circumstances, and so we need to recognise that.”
Proposed pay increase for Conwy councillors:
- Basic Salary (payable to all elected members) – increase from £17,600 to £18,666
- Leader – increase from £59,400 to £62,998
- Deputy Leader – increase from £41,580 to £44,099
- Executive Members – increase from £35,640 to £37,799
- Committee Chairs (inc. leader of the largest opposition group) – increase from £26,400 to £27,999
- Civic Head – increase from £26,400 to £27,999
- Deputy Civic Head – increase from £21,340 to £22,406