Belfast City councillors have agreed not to give themselves a pay increase.
Aine Groogan, chair of the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee (SP&R), said it is “entirely inappropriate” for councillors to be asked whether or not they should agree to a pay rise recommended by Stormont’s Department for Communities (DfC).
If the proposals were passed, it would have seen the basic allowance for members rise from £15,486 a year to £15,757, while the special responsibility allowance for some representatives, such as committee chairs, would also increase.
The chairs of committees — except for the Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall Shareholders’ Committee — would have seen their pay increase from £5,460 to £5,555.54 per year. Deputy chairs would have seen their allowance rise from £2,730 to £2,777.77, in addition to the basic allowance for councillors.
The issue came before the SP&R committee on Friday, where Ms Groogan proposed councillors reject the proposed increases and write to DfC to ensure “we don’t ever have to deal with this in the future”.
“I think it is entirely inappropriate that councillors are asked to make a decision on their own pay, in no other employment would this happen and, indeed, other politicians are not asked to make a decision on their own pay either,” she said.
“I would propose we don’t apply this [pay rise] as of today and instead we should defer the matter back to DfC and essentially say, we know it will require a change in the legislation, but ask them to correct it, so that councillors do not have to make a decision on their own pay. It’s entirely inappropriate, it should be set by an independent body and we should never be put in this position.”
Ms Groogan’s proposal was seconded by the SDLP’s Brian Heading.
Sinn Fein’s Ryan Murphy said his party has been consistent in opposing representatives being asked to agree to give themselves a pay rise, and especially given residents are currently facing a cost of living crisis, it would be inappropriate to do so now.
“Not only would it be grossly inappropriate for us to give ourselves a pay increase when the vast majority of people out there are struggling, it’s just not the right thing to do,” he said.
Ms Groogan’s proposal was agreed by councillors, without a vote.
Earlier this week, John O’Connell, chief executive of the right-wing TaxPayers’ Alliance, hit out at the proposed pay increases.
“Taxpayers are fed up of seeing councils hike rates whilst simultaneously voting to increase their own pay,” he said. “Given the cost of living crisis, now is not the time to be awarding local politicians excessive payments.”
Antrim and Newtownabbey this week approved a pay rise for councillors. At Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, members agreed a 1.5% pay rise for its chief executive and senior officers, sparking criticism.