Stockton councillors have been accused of “lining their own pockets” after voting not to cut special allowances that would have saved the authority around £26,000 a year.
But the Labour leader of the authority Councillor Bob Cook defended the decision to keep the £3,350 allowance paid to committee vice-chairs – saying they had an important role within the council.
An independent panel which looks into councillors’ allowances had proposed, among other recommendations, the scrapping of the vice chair’s allowance.
The special responsibility allowance (SRA) of £3,350 is paid to vice chairs on top of the basic councillor’s allowance of £9,300.
But at this week’s full council meeting Cllr Cook put forward a motion with the Labour group to keep the vice chair allowance.
A Conservative move to defer a decision to give time for councillors to discuss the motion properly was defeated by a combined vote of Labour and Ingleby Barwick Independents.
UKIP, Lib Dem and Billingham Independent councillors proposed the scrapping of the vice chair SRA, but that was also defeated.
Maureen Rigg, Lib Dem councillor for Eaglescliffe, said: “The excuse given by one Labour speaker after another was that we needed to get on with the job of saving money.
“Not one of them could explain how paying a group of people over £26k per year saved money.”
James Wharton, the Conservative MP for Stockton South, accused the ruling Labour group of “lining their own pockets” at a time when the council has had to reduce its expenditure significantly, leading to redundancies and cuts in services.
“The ruling Labour group in Stockton Council is running a £7.5m surplus, is increasing residents’ council tax yet again and complains about having to make difficult decisions cutting back services,” he said.
“Most residents will be absolutely disgusted to hear this decision.”
But Cllr Bob Cook defended the motion, saying if you were going to have vice chairs then they should get extra responsibility payment.
“Along with the chair of a committee they work as a team,” he said.
“If the chair can’t be at the meeting you have the vice-chair to cover.”
He said councillors took another step towards achieving the authority’s pledge to reduce members’ allowances by 15% by April 2015 at the meeting, agreeing to freeze the basic allowance and reduce all SRAs from 2015/16.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette 02 May 2014