COUNCILLOR ALLOWANCES: Deputy leader says increase is under budget

Alison Thomas, deputy leader, Norfolk County Council
Alison Thomas, deputy leader, Norfolk County Council
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The deputy leader of Norfolk County Council has defended the increase in councillor’s allowances – saying money will not be taken from anywhere else in the authority to cover the cost.

Conservative Alison Thomas, who represents the Long Stratton division, said the allowance increase was £3,000 under the budget set aside for it.

Alison Thomas, deputy leader, Norfolk County Council

Alison Thomas, deputy leader, Norfolk County Council

The increase in allowances, which will be backdated to May, was approved at a meeting in Norwich on Monday, despite an independent panel recommending a freeze on the payments. The measure was passed by 39 votes to 26, largely with the support of members of the ruling Conservative group, despite widespread fury among opposition members. Under the proposals, a councillor’s basic allowance will rise from £9,401 a year to £10,500, an increase of about 10.5 per cent.

But Mrs Thomas said this was still below the tax-free threshold for those employed – and said there was a “misunderstanding” councillors received large sums of money for their work.

“I think it is always a difficult subject and I think there is never a right time to do it,” she told the Diss Express.

“The proposals are not taking money from anywhere else in the council.

The proposals are not taking money from anywhere else in the council

Alison Thomas, deputy leader, Norfolk County Council

“I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding that councillors earn a lot of money. We are not salaried, we are not pensioned and I am still of working ago, so I have to provide myself with a private pension.”

Mrs Thomas said her role as deputy leader is a full-time job – citing the example of the adoptions panel.

She explained it would take one or two days to read all of the cases, before sitting all day to decide their outcomes.

“My role as deputy leader is a full-time job and I make sure I give it the time and effort it requires,” she said.

On the subject of some councillors not taking the allowances, she added: “It is not one size fits all. Many of our councillors are of pensionable age so they have pensions from their working life. Some of us like me don’t have a pension or a pension plan.

“I absolutely do understand the reaction of the public, but I can tell you as the person responsible for the budget, this money was already in the council’s allowances budget and £140,000 over a 12 month period does not mean we have to put council tax up.”

Mrs Thomas said her extra allowance would be set aside to act as a pension.

Earlier today the Diss Express reported Stephen Askew, a Conservative councillor who represents the Guiltcross division, would not be taking his extra allowance.