A PAY rise for Oxfordshire councillors has been roundly rejected.

Oxfordshire County Councillors were in agreement when they met yesterday (December 8) that now was not the right time for the rise as many in the public sector face a wage freeze, and as council budgets face a squeeze.

Councillors could have seen their basic pay, known as an allowance, rise from £11,014 a year to £12,000, on recommendation from an Independent Remuneration Panel.

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The council’s Conservative leader, Ian Hudspeth, said accepting the pay rise would ‘send out the wrong message to the public’ during the Covid crisis.

Only two weeks ago, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak said public sector workers outside the NHS will not have a pay increase.

Mr Hudspeth said: “I would normally propose we would accept the recommendations in full however we are not in normal times.”

The leader proposed refusing the recommendations of the remuneration panel and said a newly elected council should consider whether to take them up in 2021.

He also said allowances for councillors were important as they helped to encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds to stand as councillors, reimbursing them for time lost from their working day, instead of the elected roles falling solely to people with enough money or time to stand.

The report from the council’s Independent Remuneration Panel which suggested the allowance increase said that Oxfordshire’s councillors are already among some of the most-poorly paid in the UK.

It also suggested paying councillors a fair allowance was important for encouraging a wide range of people to stand for election.

It said: “The panel considers the current levels of allowances to be, in the main, too low having regard both to the time and workload involved and, crucially, as a means of encouraging a diverse range of people to consider becoming county councillors in Oxfordshire.”

The panel, a voluntary group of four individuals including a magistrate and retired fire officer, an auditor, a lawyer, and a former highways professional, also suggested a series of pay increases for senior staff.

As council leader, Mr Hudspeth could have been paid an extra £36,000 on top of his basic £12,000.

Instead, he will remain at his current allowance rate of £29,000 on top of the basic £11,014.

The council’s deputy leader could have seen their extra allowance rise to £24,000 from £20,000; and other senior councillors in the cabinet would have seen their extra allowance rise from £16,000 t0 £19,200.

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Pay increases for heads of committees, the council chairman, and leaders of the opposition cabinet were also recommended but all rejected.

Other councillors of all political groups agreed with plans to refuse a pay rise.

Liz Brighouse, the Labour opposition leader said: “Of course, now with the public sector workforce salaries being frozen, those people who have gone out on a daily basis since March to support our communities.

“That those people are having their wages frozen, it would be really wrong for us to decide at this point to be putting up our allowances.”

And independent councillor Peter Handley said: “I think it is fair to say we are one of the lowest paid councils in the country or at least in the surrounding area.

“But I think it would be wrong to accept this money at this point in time.”