Politicians in Watford are being urged to take a voluntary cut in their pay to reflect the shrinking size of the council.

An independent panel has recommended that Watford Borough councillors each take a 5 per cent reduction this year as the council outsources and cuts its services.

However it urged no cut in the elected mayor’s £65,000-a year-salary, recommending it be frozen instead.

The recommendations come as research by the council’s independent remuneration panel showed the budget Watford’s politicians pay was higher - at nearly £430,000 a year - than in neighbouring boroughs.

The political battle-lines have been drawn over the recommendation ahead of Wednesday’s full council meeting with the opposition Labour group urging deeper cuts of 10 to 20 per cent.

The ruling Liberal Democrat group has argued for another freeze of councillors’ and the mayoral remuneration instead of a reduction.

Watford councillors are currently paid a basic allowance of £7,209 a year. Councillors sitting in the ruling cabinet who hold a portfolio get a special responsibility allowance of £10,815 on top of their basic allowance.

Chairmen of various council committees also get special responsibility allowances of either £7,930 or £2,884. The leaders of the different parties get an extra £100 per councillor in their group, up to a maximum of £2,000.

Watford’s elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill receives a basic salary of £65,738 and a £1,000 annual travel allowance.

Watford councillors’ and mayoral remuneration had been frozen every year since 2003.

But research carried out by the independent panel showed that Watford had the highest bill for its politicians, with its 36 councillors and elected mayor costing £427,000 a year.

In contrast, Three River’s 48 district councillors cost £282,120 a year, Hertsmere’s 39 borough councillors cost £355,190 a year and Dacorum’s 51 borough councillors cost £435,000 a year.

The panel recommended that each individual Watford councillor consider the voluntary cut of 5 per cent "to reflect the reduction in overall budget balanced against an increasing pro-rata percentage for councillors."

While it was compiling its report the remuneration panel received representations from the majority Liberal Democrat group and opposition Labour group.

Nigel Bell, the Labour leader, argued due to cuts in services and council workers facing redundancy that the mayor, her cabinet and councillors with special responsibility allowances should "lead by example" and take a 20 per cent cut.

He said he felt backbench councillors should take a 10 per cent cut in their allowance due to the fact Watford’s political remuneration was higher than at neighbouring councils such as Three Rivers and Hertsmere.

The Liberal Democrat group argued councillors’ allowances and the mayor’s salary should be frozen for another year to attract a "diverse range of candidates" to the council.

The report said: "The rationale for their conclusions was that there should be a decent level of remuneration in return for high performance from councillors.

"They recognised that this was necessary in order to enable a diverse range of candidates to put themselves forward for election - in particular those with work and family commitments."

The Liberal Democrat group agreed that Watford councillors’ remuneration was at the "higher end" for districts but compared their members’ workload to that of large councils such as county or unitary authorities.

The report added: "They stated that the mayor had indicated she is willing to have a salary freeze during this term, regardless of what happens to MPs’ or other local government salaries".