The leader of Preston Council is set to receive a 15 per cent pay rise – despite claims the authority is on the verge of bankruptcy.
A report by an independent body has recommended that Coun Peter Rankin should receive a rise of 15 per cent, equating to around £1,300 a year.
It comes as staff at the authority have had their pay frozen for the past four years.
Preston Council’s leader said a 15 per cent pay rise would be ‘difficult to take’ – despite him being one of the lowest-paid leaders in Lancashire.
Coun Peter Rankin said he would be led by his fellow councillors on whether to accept an increase in his allowances to £13,715 a year.
His current pay makes him the third poorest-paid leader in the county, well behind Lancashire County Council’s Geoff Driver on £39,092 and South Ribble Council’s Margaret Smith on £16,110.
All of Preston Council’s 57 councillors are paid a basic allowance of £3,567 a year for carrying out their roles – an amount which would not change under the proposal.
On top of this, they can claim for travel to and from meetings, meal allowances and childcare costs.
Councillors who have extra responsibilities are paid more, including the leader, the leaders of political parties, and chairmen and deputy chairmen.
The leader is currently given a special responsibility allowance of £8,844, which is one of the lowest in the region.
However, it could rise to £10,148 if the plans are given the go-ahead at a council meeting tomorrow.
To finance the move, chairs of bodies including the audit committee, the crime and disorder committee, and the standards committee, could see their pay cut by £334 a year to make up the leader’s increase.
Coun Rankin said: “I am probably the busiest district councillor in Lancashire and our allowances are some of the lowest.
“Clearly in the present circumstances it would be very difficult to accept an increase, even though it’s not very much.
“An independent group of people asked to see me and I went and told them how many hours a week I work. I think they were amazed, actually.
“They are not the only people. I am amazed at the hard work it is.”
“There are leaders that earn £20,000 and aren’t as busy as me.
“It would be difficult to take, particularly when members of the public and our own staff haven’t had a pay increase. But we will just have to see. It is up to the council. My group hasn’t taken a position on it yet.”
Coun Ken Hudson, leader of the council’s Conservative group, said: “The Labour group took a decision that they would increase the number of members on their cabinet. They took the same allowances for five and gave it to six. I would hope that the Labour group will get shut of a cabinet member rather than increase the allowances.
“Preston has got the highest budget but the lowest allowances for the leader.
“But the point is that was the leader and the Labour group’s decision so that they could have an extra member.
“I must admit the leader is probably underpaid for the amount of time he puts in but it’s the principle.” Bob Lewis, of Garstang-based taxpayer group Is it Fair?, said the timing would make it ‘hard to swallow’ for many people. He added: “I think when you become a councillor, you should put your own money up. It should not be about the money.
“Some young people would be very glad of a job on that sort of money.
“Personally, I think it’s a disgrace that it could be increased.”
The council’s overall budget for paying members next year is £272,960.
Coun Rankin said: “These are allowances, they help us with the costs. It is not meant to be a wage. I don’t charge the council for my travel in Preston. I use my bike a lot.
“We are in very difficult times at the moment and I recognise that. I am not going to propose that councillors take a cut in their allowances. I think Preston gets a very good deal.”
Coun Bill Shannon, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “To me, the amount that we pay the leader of Preston Council compared to leaders of other district councils is very low. I have got no problem with an increase in the leader’s salary.
“What I do disagree with is with people getting allowances irrespective of the work they do. That doesn’t apply to the leader. That is a full-time job.”