Pay rise for Kingston councillors divides opinion

Kingston councillors have made a decision to increase their annual allowance by over 4%, but the move has not been greeted by unanimous approval.

With the motion passed during a meeting of the Corporate and Resources Committee on 21 February, the development comes soon after the announcement that RBK would raise council tax bills by 4.99%. This is the maximum amount by which a council is permitted to increase payments without the need for a local referendum.

Local resident Patrick Land described the move as: “outrageous, especially when considering the contempt in which [RBK Council] clearly hold their constituents.”

He added that this, as well as the acceptance among councillors of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to extend the ULEZ, was indicative of the council’s disregard for those in their constituency who will incur further financial hardship.

Environmentalist Alison Fure argued that the council’s decision to boost their annual pay rather than fund community-centred projects has led to the degradation of RBK’s nature and wildlife.

She said: “Norbiton ward has been made ‘development ready’, and we have lost over 100 trees in the area … this makes a mockery of Climate Emergency claims, and I have witnessed the diminution of resources available to the public.”

Former Conservative councillor for RBK Kevin Davis took to Twitter to air his concerns when the plan to issue an allowance increase was first made known, prior to the committee meeting and the deciding vote:

Councillor and leader of the Kingston Liberal Democrats Andreas Kirsch, who introduced the increased allowance motion to the committee, insisted that the decision came after discovering Kingston’s councillor allowances were some of the lowest in London, 25% below the amount recommended by the independent commission.

Indeed, reading the 2022 Remuneration Report for London Councillors revealed that the average suggested basic allowance for councillors across Greater London was £12,014 annually. This base rate covers all meetings, travel, and any other instance which requires a councillor’s presence and time on behalf of the council. The money a councillor receives is not a salary, but rather compensation for their time and input.

The payment to Kingston councillors will be backdated to April 2022, which will purportedly keep the round figure being applied to members’ allowances proportionate. Cllr Noel Hadjimichael, co-chairing the meeting, said that any insinuation of this backdated payment being a bonus was “both inflammatory and incredibly unhelpful.”

Contrary to this, however, were the views of councillor and leader of the Kingston Independent Residents Group James Giles. He told the Courier: “[the payment] is a slap in the face and a reward for failure at a time when people are struggling to get by.”

“The backdating of allowances means that councillors will receive a one-off lump sum, in other words a bonus. The leader of the Council’s bonus will total nearly £2,000.

“It is a disgrace and yet another example of how the Liberal Democrat Council is out of touch with ordinary residents.”

During the 21 February meeting, Cllr Giles noted that 29 ex-councillors would also receive the backdated sum, despite not serving on the Council for almost a year at the time of the decision.

He said, rather than accept the pay rise, KIRG councillors would be donating any funds they are awarded to local charities in order to support Kingston residents during the current cost-of-living crisis.

Kingston Liberal Democrats have not yet responded to a request for comment.

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