Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis 'expresses regret' over Norfolk County Council allowance increase
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The chairman of the Conservative party has "expressed regret" that members of his own party at Norfolk County Council voted to increase their allowances.
Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, who became the Conservative party chairman this month, made the remarks in response to the council’s budget consultation.
The county council is looking to plug a £125m funding gap by 2021/22 and, on Monday, the policy and resources committee will meet to discuss millions of pounds of cuts and savings, mooted for next month’s budget.
But councillors caused controversy when, at a time when consultation over savings and a council tax increase was ongoing, they voted, by 39 to 26, with two abstentions, to award themselves an increase in their basic allowance of 10.5pc.
That means their basic allowance will go up from £9,401 to £10,500, backdated to last May, despite an independent panel having not recommended it.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who had voted against the original decision, tabled a motion calling for a u-turn. But that was defeated by 36 votes to 28.
All who voted to keep the increase were Conservatives, bar one independent. Twenty councillors were absent.
The council is budgeting for a 5.99pc increase in its share of the council tax, with Conservatives saying that will help stave off cuts to bus subsidies and gritting.
But, in his response to the budget consultation, Mr Lewis “expressed his regret that the council had decided to increase councillors’ allowances, rather than use the funding to mitigate the impact of some of the budget proposals.”
Conservative council leader Cliff Jordan, who had said he would give his increase to charity - something a number of other councillors have pledged to do - has said he was doing the right thing in proposing the increase.
He said the £140,000 would come from an underspend in the allowances budget and payments to Norfolk councillors lagged behind counterparts at other councils.
Meanwhile, councillors have just received the back paid allowances.
The timing of which, just days before the meeting where cuts and savings are due to be discussed, was branded “spectacularly ill timed and insensitive” by Labour leader Steve Morphew.