Hiking up of Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors’ pay defended

An extremely long-serving unionist politician has defended backing a pay rise for councillors, amid sharp criticism of the move.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 5:57 pm
Roisin Lynch, Fraser Agnew

Meanwhile the SDLP group leader on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council would not say whether or not she will accept any of the additional pay, having voted against the increase.

The matter was passed by the council on Monday night.

Afterwards Fraser Agnew, a 78-year-old Ulster Unionist who has held a seat on the council (and its predecessor authorities) for 41 years, told the News Letter that the public must consider that councillors’ pay is very low.

He said “maybe the timing wasn’t great,” but added: “If one looks at local government in Northern Ireland, you’re looking at councillors who are bottom of the wage structure of elected representatives.

“We have MPs, we have members at the Assembly, and those who are working at the coalface are councillors.”

He said the roughly £15,500 councillors get annually “is not even a living wage”.

“Many councillors across the Province are working full time, they’ve no other jobs, so it’s not a lot of money at all,” he said.

“Councillors are not well paid – nobody can argue that they are.”

He said by opposing the rise the SDLP “are playing politics, in a not very nice way”.

He also pointed out that the SDLP councillors “don’t need to take the increases”.

SDLP group leader Roisin Lynch said the pay rise was “unjustifiable, as people and businesses across the district rebuild following the Covid-19 crisis”.

When asked by the News Letter if the SDLP councillors were still going to accept the extra money anyway, she said: “The decision now has to be taken. There are a number of councillors across the chamber, and I’ll not mention any names, who have deferred any extra payments.

“So there’ll be decisions have to be decided on that.

“We’d take that view that it’s a personal decision. There’s no party whip on it.”

Pressed as to whether she herself will accept extra remuneration, she said: “I’m certainly going to be considering the implications of the decision last night, absolutely.

“Even if I do it, I’m not going to be making it public. I don’t think it serves any purpose other than causing division.”

The pay rise was approved by 24 to nine, with one abstention. According to both councillors Lynch and Agnew, the SDLP and SF opposed it, but the remaining parties voted it through.

The council said its pay hikes were recommended by “an independent report carried out by PSM Consulting”.

Councillors’ pay is known technically as their “allowances”.

Under the new pay plan, councillors with special responsibilities (like chairing a committee or being a party group leader) will get extra money – which differs depending on their role.

The mayor will receive the biggest hike, with their extra pay of £13,797 on top of the basic councillors’ allowance jumping to £21,000 next June.

The chair of the planning committee will see their extra pay of £6,368 rise to £8,000 next June.

The deputy mayor’s allowance for June 2020 will be £9,000, increasing to £9,500 in June 2021 and then £10,500 in June 2022.

The chairs of the Operations Committee and Community Planning Committee currently receive an allowance of £5,307, and this will increase to £5,500 in June 2020, £5,750 in June 2021, and £6,000 in June 2022.

The basic allowance for Councillors has already increased from £15,071 per annum to £15,486, in line with advice issued by the Department for Communities to all councils earlier this year.

For more from this reporter, see here:

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