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Cheshire East Council chiefs have been criticised for failing to mention a retrospective pay rise was already being considered when it consulted with the public on proposals to freeze councillors allowances for 2023/4.

As reported last week, the council’s corporate policy committee agreed to recommend that councillors’ basic allowance be increased by £500 a year and be backdated for 2022/3.

That decision came after the same committee in February had supported a proposal in the MTFS (budget) to ‘consider a freeze on member allowances’ for 2023/24.

Conservative group leader Janet Clowes (Wybunbury) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service this week the “Labour-led council will face justifiable public criticism for the perceived contradiction in proposing a freeze on member allowances in February 2023”.

“It was clearly minuted [from February meeting] that members, including the deputy leader of council, felt that a freeze on member allowances was ‘right in a cost of living crisis’, even if not sustainable in the longer term,” said Cllr Clowes.

“This proposal was later approved at full budget council.

“However, last week, just four months after the budget was set, the members of the corporate policy committee were asked to recommend a rise in member allowances be approved for 2022/23, based on a council decision from June 2021 and that it should be paid retrospectively.

“There was understandable confusion, which was why the Conservative group abstained or voted against the recommendation to approve the pay rises to full council until the situation had been clarified.”

Cllr Clowes said she has since been told that, while the 2021 council decision appears to have been superseded by the 2023 budget decision, in fact the historic review still takes precedence – despite the fact it has taken two years to get to committee.

“Not only that, the proposal includes another review for 2023/24,” said Cllr Clowes.

The Conservative group leader said she is not opposed to raising member allowances per se, as the cost of living crisis affects everyone “but the mechanisms for doing so must be open and transparent”.

She added: “Raising member allowances based on the historic 2021 decision I am told, is technically permissible.

“But this Labour-led council will face justifiable public criticism for the perceived contradiction in proposing a freeze on member allowances in February 2023, without also making it clear at the time of the public consultation, that a retrospective pay rise review was already working its way through the system.”

A decision on the allowances will be made at full council on July 19.

If it is approved the basic allowance for councillors will rise from £12,351 a year to £12,851.

Neighbouring Cheshire West and Cheshire has just voted through an increase which will see the basic allowance for its councillors rise to £14,453-a-year.

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