Political pressure is building up on Tory-controlled Wiltshire Council following its controversial decision last week to increase massively the annual allowances paid to its leader Jane Scott and her senior Cabinet members.
Mrs Scott, who holds the OBE is now the target of an online petition declaring loss of confidence in her and demanding her resignation and that of her Cabinet.
Mrs Scott’s current allowance of £37,335 as leader of the unitary authority is to be boosted by 36.5 per cent to £52,227, thus making her one of the highest paid council leaders in the country.
And it is to be back-dated to May when the local elections took place without this policy being disclosed.
The petition, launched by 47-year-old Paul Gaunt, a business consultant living near Royal Wootton Bassett, is seeking 1,000 signatures to force the council to discuss his demands.
“Wiltshire needs to be held to account,” he told Marlborough News Online. “The council’s decision is outrageous and grossly unfair to those who are already suffering from the council’s cuts to services in an economic climate where enough is really enough.”
A non-political father of three, he was encouraged by 87 people signing his petition when it went online on Friday, declaring: “We the undersigned being electors in the Wiltshire Council local authority area state that we have no confidence in Wiltshire Council’s Leader and Cabinet and call for their resignation.”
His full explanation follows: “On Tuesday 12 November, Wiltshire Council agreed to give a substantial increase in allowances to its members only weeks after making 252 staff redundant.
“It means Jane Scott, the Wiltshire Council leader will see her allowance rise by 36.5 per cent a year, affording her an additional £14,892 on her present £37,335, bringing the figure to £52,227.
“The increases, to be backdated from May’s elections, those councillors who are members of the Council’s cabinet seeing allowances increase by at least 22 per cent from £15,101 to £18,433 a year.
“During the summer, the council ran a voluntary redundancy programme in which 252 front-line staff decided to leave the organisation.
Seven of the council’s 18 associate directors took voluntary redundancy. The remaining associate directors have seen their wages rise by 7.5 per cent, on average.
“The rises for those at the top come at the time when front line staff are seeing their numbers reduced, duties increased and minimal pay rises. This is to the detriment of services and shows a total disregard for service users, the front-line and back office staff at the council, as well as the Council Tax and Business Rate payers of the county.”
Mr Gaunt is not alone in his views. Even the independent Conservative Home website has now criticised the decision at a time when the Wiltshire has made hundreds of staff redundant and is being forced to reduce services because of seriously slashed government funding.
Pointing out Mrs Scott’s new allowance total of £43,011, the website reports: “It is true that the fat cat Labour leader of Durham is on even more – £49,875. But that should hardly be the acceptable limit of profligacy for a Conservative council leader.
“Even if a council’s allowances are below the average it is hardly the right time to be putting them up during a period when savings are required.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Tory MP for neighbouring North East Somerset, also announced his opposition on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show in the wake of the resignation petition seeking signatures from members of the public across the county.
And Independent Councillor Terry Chivers has sent a protest to local MPs, Devizes member Claire Perry among them, in which he declares: “I’m sure you know by now, that Conservative councillors on Wiltshire Council voted for a massive increases in allowances for the leader and Cabinet. “The decision comes after we have seen hundreds of staff lose their jobs, and others seeing pay increases pegged to just one per cent. In Wiltshire ordinary hardworking families are struggling to make ends meet, and in fact the council are cutting services right across the board.
“As I’m sure you know this comes only weeks after we have seen top managers get over 20 per cent pay increases.
“As I’m sure you know, Conservative Home has strongly criticised these increases for councillors so has Jacob Rees-Mogg on TV today. As a Wiltshire MP he will you be backing local residents in condemning these massive increases in councillors’ allowances.”
No response has so far been received.
To sign the petition click on