Councillors' allowance increase was second highest in the country
MID Devon councillors have come under fire from a national watchdog following the decision to increase their basic allowances by 23 per cent earlier this year.
The increase, which was reported by the Gazette in January, has now been shown in a Taxpayers' Alliance audit to have been the second biggest increase of any local authority in the UK. It saw basic allowances rise from £3,654 a year to £4,500 for each of its 42 councillors.
Only Boston Borough Council recorded a bigger increase.
The hike was criticised by the alliance but Mid Devon District Council has repeated its defence of the move, saying the increase was only bringing allowances in line with those paid by other local authorities.
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Chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, Matthew Sinclair, said: "With local authorities up and down the country having to rein in spending and many public sector staff facing a pay freeze, those councillors who have awarded themselves an increase in their allowances should hang their heads in shame.
"They cannot retain the moral authority to make tough decisions on council spending if they believe their own allowances should be immune."
Mid Devon was the only council in the county to increase allowances this year, meaning councillors in the district now receive more than those in East Devon, South Hams and West Devon.
Five other district councils in the county did not increase allowances. These include East Devon District Council, where basic allowances are £4,360, North Devon Council (4,570), South Hams District Council (£4,080), Torridge District Council (4,568) and West Devon Borough Council (£4,092).
Torbay Borough Council and Teignbridge District Council reduced allowances by five per cent from £8,328 to £7,912 and £5,231 to £4,969 respectively.
Mr Sinclair added: "People should be able to see how much cash their councillors are taking and compare the cost with nearby councils.
"This kind of transparency will allow them to decide for themselves whether they are getting good value for money."
Council Leader Peter Hare-Scott said the increases were based on recommendations made by an independent panel.
"Comparing Mid Devon to other district councils in Devon, the panel found that Mid Devon councillors had fallen well behind and took the view that the right thing to do was to close the gap and bring councillors' allowances into line with the Devon average," he said.
Cllr Hare-Scott said that research carried out by the panel found evidence that having a lower allowance for councillors was likely to deter individuals from standing for election.
He said: "At the last election some wards were uncontested, and none of the political groups were able to field candidates in every seat. This is not good for democracy.
"We want to attract more diverse candidates that are more representative of the Mid Devon population: adjusting the allowances they receive should make this more realistic for younger, working-age people.
"Clearly, the fact that councillors ourselves had to make the final decision on whether to accept or ignore the recommendations of the independent panel put us in an awkward position.
"While we are acutely aware of the financial pressures on the council, letting councillors' allowances slip further and further out of line with the mainstream would not have serve the council well in the future."