Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) has voted to accept a proposed increase in councillors' allowances.

A report from an independent review panel was brought before the council, recommending that all councillors should see their basic allowance raised to £7,390. Special allowances for those with certain roles will also be increased, with the leader of the council, Cllr Phil North, receiving an increase of £2,919.

There was strong debate over the move, with some suggesting that the recommendations should be rejected, or deferred, while others said that the move would keep them “above the breadline”.

Following debate, councillors approved the move by 23 votes to 10, with four abstaining, with allowances to change from September.

Allowances are paid to councillors for their work, assuming that 55 per cent of their time spent working is paid, with the rest considered to be voluntary. They do not set their own allowances, with the level being decided by an independent panel.

Allowances on the council were last changed in 2015, with a two year extension given in 2019 following changes to TVBC at the time, including a reduction in the number of councillors from 48 to 43.

Under the plans, all councillors will see their allowance raised from £7,036 to £7,390 in September. Special responsibility allowances, which are paid to those with roles such as leader of the council are also being changed. Each individual can only have one special responsibility allowance.

As a result, Cllr Phil North, as council leader, will see his allowance increase by £2,919 to just over £16,000, while the deputy leader will have their allowance increased by £1,128.

Others, such as the chair of the licensing committee, will see their allowance reduced, with the payment for this role falling from £4,235 to £3,326. All allowances, except for travel rates, will be indexed to the Consumer Prices Index, a measure of inflation, and be adjusted accordingly each year.

Cllr Alan Dowden said councillors should reject the recommendations, saying that the UK was currently in a “desperate” situation.

He said: “The last thing I want to do is to be seen to be receiving extra money even though I know I’m worth it because I work far more hours than I’ve been allocated, even more than this latest review quite frankly.”

“I don’t believe that any councillor here, given the present circumstances this country is in at the moment, should be receiving any extra whatsoever.”

Cllr Nik Daas agreed, saying: “I do not believe it is right for us as councillors to give ourselves a hearty pat on the back and increase our allowance today, when those who elected us do not have the option at all.

“Outside of this virtual meeting, our residents and businesses in the circumstances would not dream of a pay increase from their boss or employer, so why as councillors should we?”

Cllr David Coole, meanwhile, raised concerns over proposals to payments to opposition group leaders, with a special allowance currently only to be paid to the leader of the largest political party not in power.

“It’s not because I’m after the money,” he said, “it’s the recognition of what political groups do within councils. They represent political groups, and they represent the electorate that voted for them.

“We seem to have lost sight of that and we seem to only recognise one opposition in this particular council. Winchester City Council recognises all opposition groups, and they’re next door to us, so I find it very surprising the independent panel can’t see this for themselves.”

Fellow Andover Independents Party member, Cllr Rebecca Meyer, compared the payment of councillors in the UK to those around the world, saying that those in England “are paid a relatively small amount.”

Cllr Phil North also supported the recommendations, saying that he had spent the last 14 years “working pretty hard on behalf of local residents,” having stood down from a role of an office manager to dedicate more of his time.

“People will say that’s a choice that I changed my job and lowered my salary, but if councillors aren’t compensated for their time, or 55 per cent of their time, only those who can afford to be a councillor would put themselves forward for election.”

He said that it was right to defer the change until September in the hope Covid restrictions would be over, saying that it seems “the fairest way”.

Cllr Karen Hamilton echoed Cllr North’s views on the allowances opening the possibility for more people to enter local politics, saying that it was a significant move.

She said: “This allowance change, for me, even though it’s not much, keeps me above the breadline and not turn to benefits.”

“For me, the small jump is beneficial in a way that I can still feel that I’ve still got independence in my life.”

Cllr Richard Rowles subsequently proposed an amendment that the increase should be deferred for two years, until May 2023.

He said: “I couldn’t vote for us getting this increase now, and I don’t think in September, the economy, as much as people hope it to be, will be much better.”

His amendment was rejected by the council by 13 votes to 23. A vote on the recommendations as a whole was then held, with 23 councillors voting in favour, 10 against, and four abstaining.

The allowances of councillors will now be increased in September, though they are able to refuse to take this increase, or donate it to charity, if they wish.