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Watford councillors agree allowance freeze
Watford politicians have voted to freeze their allowances for the next year and to leave it up to individual councillors to choose if they will take a five per cent pay cut.
However the council rejected proposals for a deeper cut in councillor pay and reductions in the mayor’s salary.
The move comes after an independent panel recommended councillors take a voluntary five per cent drop in their allowance to reflect the shrinking size of the council. The panel also recommended the mayor’s £65,000 a year salary be frozen.
At a full council meeting last night, Labour councillors proposed greater cuts of 10 per cent for backbench councillors and 20 per cent in the mayor’s salary and councillors with higher special responsibility allowances.
Elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill rejected the proposals and made an impassioned defence of councillors’ allowances, saying she did not want to go back to the time when the council was run by "bankers and freemasons".
Watford councillors are currently paid a basic allowance of £7,209 a year. Councillors sitting in the ruling cabinet or chairmen of committees get a special responsibility allowance of between £10,815 and £2,884 on top of their basic allowance.
Watford’s elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill receives a basic salary of £65,738 and a £1,000 annual travel allowance.
At last night’s meeting Liberal Democrat cabinet member, Iain Sharpe, attacked the Labour group saying the allowance levels had been set when they controlled the council and frozen every year since.
He said: "They wanted the allowances when they thought there was going to be a Labour mayor. As soon as Labour lost the election they changed face.
"I think the Labour group has been chewing on sour grapes for so long the bitterness has entered their soul."
Steve Johnson, a Conservative councillor for Leggatts, said though councillors were worth the current level of allowance he would be happy to take the five per cent cut if Labour, the largest opposition group, did so first.
The leader of the Green group, Steve Rackett, said his group would be happy to follow if Labour took the cut and said the opposition parties needed to "put their money where their mouth is".
Labour’s Asif Khan said that it was right for the councillors to reduce their own allowances as residents were suffering wage reductions and job losses in the economic downturn.
He said: "Residents are having a torrid time. The economic state is harming them and squeezing them and these people are our residents."
Councillor Khan, who represents Leggatts, added that he would do the job of councillor for free if necessary.
Mayor Thornhill defended the current pay level saying when she first became a councillor she was a divorced mother and would not have been able to do the job without the allowances.
She said it was needed to enable people to become councillors no matter how much they earned.
Mayor Thornhill added: "I don’t want to go back to the time when all councillors were bankers and freemasons who ran the council between lunch and dinner and all the men in here were old grey and wealthy."
In the end proposals for reductions of 10 and 20 per cent were voted down and the proposal for a freeze was voted through by the Liberal Democrat majority.