Local councillors have defended a decision to increase their basic and special responsibility allowances by 2.2 per cent which came into effect from the start of the year.
The annual members’ allowances for a Banbridge councillor will now be £10,051 compared to £9,835 last year and a councillor on the new ABC Council will now be given £5,025 (an increase from £4,915.50).
A Council Chair who would have received an extra allowance of £4,140 would now have an allowance of £4,232.
The rate was struck by the Department of Environment to cover from January to March this year and is applicable to councillors serving on existing councils and new councils operating in shadow mode.
Council Chairman Marie Hamilton, said that she would only benefit by £24 a month extra which she pointed out was taxable.
“So when you work it all out I only get a small amount of money extra,” she said.
“I hope the general public are not too harsh on me and think that I am in fact worth it. I have worked it out that I will get £6.32 a month for my special responsibility role which works out at £1.60 per week and then I get £18 a month as a councillor so it works out in total as £24 which I have to pay tax on.”
According to other councillors the increase is justified as their work load according to UUP’s councillor Glenn Barr is set to increase three fold.
From April, Banbridge will be part of the new ABC Council which includes Armagh and Craigavon.
“When we were in Banbridge, we would have been dealing with a population of around 10,000 but from April that will be now 30,000,” said Mr Barr. “If you look at other councils their allowances are much more and if it is an increase then it is well worth it. In fact the council are getting value for money.
“The role of a councillor is a full time professional job and if the government wants professionals running the council then they must know that they should be paying for that service.”
DUP’s Jim McElroy, who will not be joining the ABC council in April also agreed. He went as far to say that the extra allowances was not enough.
“The extra burden that the councillors have to deal with now, the money is not nearly enough,” he said. “Councillors are training at the minute and attend a lot more meetings, two to three a week and on top of that they have a lot more of an area to cover so this increase does warrant itself.
“In fact, I feel that the money should be increased again. After 12 months it will be seen that the money is well and truly justified. If a council is to go forward then this is what is needed an increase on allowances.
“Councillors are training, at the minute and the training is like training to be solicitor. It is very thorough. I personally think that the increase is not nearly enough and the government is actually saving money with this increase.”
Sinn Fein’s Brendan Curran said that it was not something that he did not pay a great deal of attention to as the rate was in line with inflation. He said that the amount of money that he would be getting would amount to just £30 extra, which worked out at just £9 per month.
“It is not a huge increase and it is a rate that comes from the DoE,” said Mr Curran. “It is an increase should have been paid last April and money that only covers a three month period from January to March this year and does not even apply to the new council.”