Belfast Telegraph

Belfast is only council so far to vote against pay increase for members

By Victoria Leonard

Just one Northern Ireland council has so far voted against a pay rise for its elected members. The extra cash has been authorised by the Department for Communities (DfC).

The DfC has increased the maximum limit available for each councillor's basic and special allowances by one per cent from April 1.

Three councils have already accepted the pay increase, while six are yet to vote on whether or not to accept it.

Two councils will apply it automatically.

The move would see each councillor's basic allowance increase from £14,342 per annum to £14,485 per annum - a £143 boost.

For a typical council with 40 elected members, this means a total extra spend of £5,720 in the forthcoming financial year.

Also set to rise is the maximum limit for the special responsibility allowance (SRA), a payment to a councillor who "has significant additional special responsibilities in relation to the discharge of their duties".

For 2017 the SRA for councillors in an area with a population of less than 120,000 will increase by £101 to £10,201.

Elected members in an area with a population of between 120,000 and 199,000 will see and SRA increase of £141 to £14,281.

Meanwhile, those serving in the biggest council areas, with populations of 200,000-plus, will see a £218 SRA increase, to £22,034.

Each council decides which roles are eligible for this amount, up to a maximum of 50% of councillors, and the amount paid per role.

Individual councillors can only receive a maximum of 20% of their particular council's SRA limit.

While the DfC sets the maximum limit, it is for each council to set a level within this and to pay these allowances, which are not funded by the DfC.

The DfC says that the move is "in line with the increase in officers' rates as advised by the Northern Ireland Joint Council for Local Government Services".

However, the DfC makes it clear that councillors "may, if they wish, renounce their entitlement to basic or special responsibility allowances" by writing to the chief executive.

So far, only Belfast City Council has voted against the pay rise, while Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council; Derry and Strabane District Council; Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have each agreed to accept it.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said that all 41 members would "automatically" receive the increase to the basic allowance, which "will not require a vote". The remaining seven councils will all give their members the opportunity to vote for or against the pay increase.

Belfast City Council said that its strategic policy and resources committee had "agreed not to increase the current (2015/16) rates payable for either basic or special responsibility allowances" at a meeting last August.

Derry and Strabane District Council said that the pay rise had been approved by members of its governance and strategic planning committee on September 6, 2016.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council said the proposed increases had been agreed at a full council meeting on January 30.

All councillors there will receive the basic allowance increase, and up to 22 councillors are eligible for the increase to the SRA.

Each councillor can only claim one SRA.

Members of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have also accepted a recommendation to increase the basic allowance and special allowance rate for councillors with effect from April 1.

Only Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said it had not received the communication from the DfC about the matter.

It said a report would be brought to the policy and resources committee for members to consider for approval or otherwise "in due course".

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