Jane Scott, Tory leader of Wiltshire Council, has finally caved in to mounting criticism of massive personal allowance increases voted to her and members of her Cabinet, and declared she has a “moral duty” to accept the rise.
Mrs Scott, who is to receive a 36.5 per cent increase in her allowance to a new back-dated total of £52,227, had refused to make a public statement in answer to growing criticism at a time of austerity and a petition demanding her resignation.
But she has now said she had not spoken out before about the controversy because it was a whole-council decision and it was not her that the decision was about, but the position of leader.
She declared that she was morally obligated to accept the increase, in particular because she did not want to put pressure on whoever succeeded her to have to decide whether they should or not.
And she added that the council wanted to open up the possibility of being a councillor to a wider spectrum of people, and make it possible for people from lower incomes to be able to afford to represent their communities.
At the same time Albert Lampey, who chaired an independent remuneration panel that recommended the allowance increases – they rise 22 per cent for Cabinet members – admitted he was “embarrassed” how little Wiltshire councillors received compared with neighbouring councils. “When we compared what the leader of Wiltshire Council gets with what leaders of neighbouring councils in, for example, Bath and North East Somerset or Somerset County Council, it was, frankly, embarrassing,” he pointed out in defence of the first allowance rises since the Wiltshire unitary authority was created four years ago.
“Wiltshire is a far bigger authority, with a massively bigger budget to control, and the leader of Wiltshire does a much bigger job here than the leaders of neighbouring authorities, but they were getting paid less.”
Mrs Scott said: “The independent panel felt they had got it wrong in 2009, so we were not at the right level for the responsibility we have.
“We are working in a more efficient way, but that does put an awful lot of pressure on all of us, both members and officers in the organisation, to deliver.
“The independent panel looked at that and they made their recommendation and I think it’s only right for the good running of the council in the future that we take that recommendation, because they thought what they put forward four years ago was wrong.”
The explanations have fallen on deaf ears, the petition launched by businessman Paul Gaunt demanding the resignation of Mrs Scott and her Cabinet colleagues now nearing 3,000 signatures.
Jeff Osborn, the Wiltshire independent councillor who has led a vociferous campaign against any allowance increases with his independent council colleague Terry Chivers, remains unrepentant.
“If she really wants to attract more dynamism, she needs to have a cull of some of the old duffers who are the prime beneficiaries of these increases,” he declared.
“I’m sorry, Jane, your excuses don’t wash, which is a pity as it took you so long to come forward with them.”
He told Marlborough News Online there was real public anger over “these massive pay hikes” and adding that they were “absolutely wrong, especially when the ordinary people of Wiltshire are under the cosh of austerity and are having to cut back on Christmas.”
He added: “These super size increases won’t apply to new councillors who will only get a one per cent increases, but to all the ‘magic circle’, and herself, who have been on the council for some time.”
Now a Government minister condemns Wiltshire Tory council leader’s huge pay rise
Brandon Lewis, Minister for Local Government, has poured more pressure on Jane Scott, Tory leader of Wiltshire Council, who claims it is her “moral duty” to accept a massive 36 per cent rise in her council personal allowance.
Interviewed on Wiltshire Radio, the Minister strongly condemned the rises in allowances for both Mrs Scott and members of her Cabinet and said in no way could they be justified, especially when so many public sector staff had suffered a pay freeze.
“These were pushed through Council last month by use of the Tory whip and in face of opposition from members of all other parties,” Independent Wiltshire Councillor Jeff Osborn told Marlborough News Online.
“ Mr Lewis is not the first figure of standing to criticise this thoughtless and politically inept increase. John Craig, the well respected former Wiltshire Chief Fire officer publicly stated that Mrs Scott and her Cabinet demonstrated a total lack of leadership with this blatant selfish act.
“Talking to other former senior local government officers, I know there are more who feel this way. In this time of austerity and redundancies, with many of the public facing a hard Christmas, the anger against these increases is palpable and growing.
“Now we have a Tory minister condemning Tory-controlled Wiltshire Council. I don’t know if Jane Scott has responded to Mr Lewis’ strong criticism. She certainly should do so. “And so should the Wiltshire Tory MPs – Andrew Murrison, Claire Perry, James Gray and John Glen. For despite being asked for their views on Jane Scott’s action a number of times, to date they, unlike Mr Lewis, have offered precisely no criticism.”
And Mr Osborn added: “Without doubt there is a growing crisis of leadership within Tory-run Wiltshire. So much so, that some Tory Wiltshire councillors have, off the record, of course, expressed their misgivings as to the way that Jane Scott is taking the Council.
“This will not wash with the public – as indeed it does not with Tory ministers. The public rightly demand answers. How long will this leadership crisis continue? Will Wiltshire Tories end up destroying themselves?”