A debate over an allowance motion at Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) became particularly heated on Wednesday (April 7) as councillors argued over the motion.

Cllr David Coole had proposed that the minority opposition group leader on the council, himself, should be paid a special responsibilities allowance (SRA). These allowances are given to support extra work undertaken by councillors with additional roles.

He said that being paid the allowance was “a matter of complying with the constitution”. Other councillors, however, accused him of having a “total lack of respect” for TVBC and residents by asking for the payment.

The motion proposed at a meeting of the full council on April 7 said that a SRA should be paid to the leader of the minority opposition group, and backdated to May 2019. Cllr Coole argued that by having three members, the Andover Independents Party is an opposition group on the council.

He said: “While some members and officers may not like the new political landscape, this is irrelevant to the motion before council. This motion is about compliance with the constitution and ensuring the council, individual members and officers comply with it regardless of their political views or the council’s past practice.

“Only the council can approve the amending of the constitution, it cannot pick and choose which bits it wants to comply with. The constitution at part six section two clearly states that the minority opposition group leader is entitled to a special responsibilities allowance.”

Part six section two of the TVBC constitution, however, says that the council “has the right” to make payments to the minority opposition leader, rather than setting an obligation.

Cllr Tracey Tasker spoke first, and referenced the independent panel which sets allowance rates at TVBC. In January, the council voted to accept their recommendations on changes to the scheme, which did not include paying all opposition group leaders.

She said: “The scheme does not recognise, or contemplate, there being more than one minority opposition group leader and recognises the leader forming the substantive opposition. An amendment to the scheme would have been required for payment to be made to more than one opposition group so I will not be supporting this motion.”

Cllr Mark Cooper agreed, saying: “If you want extra allowances, then the independent review panel is the body to ask, not the council itself. Members’ allowances are very sensitive and we have the panel due to the sensitivities around this.”

Cllr Nick Matthews, meanwhile, said that there was “a total lack of respect” from the Andover Independents over the motion.

He said: “I remain bewildered at the total lack of respect and indeed, furthermore, contempt, shown by the AIP towards the council and more importantly our residents and taxpayers. It’s unprecedented and really raises a moral question as to their importance and consideration of public service over their financial gains.”

He also queried who would receive the backdated funds, as at the time of the election in May 2019, the members of the Andover Independents were members of the Andover Alliance before forming their own party, while other members of the Alliance resigned or became independent.

Cllr Matthews said: “I am finding it increasingly difficult to grasp a concept of demanding the public fund a party that was not elected by the very public it wants the money from. It’s immoral and disgraceful to suggest or imply any current members of these independents work or commit additional time in holding the current administration to account. It’s farcical.”

He added: “They simply have no respect and in essence I believe we have a group of individuals who seek only to disrupt, antagonise and cause division and ill-feeling by presenting a deluge of questions and motions without substance, thought, background research or indeed resident benefits which all of us were elected to do.

“They are publicity seeking, self-serving, anti-establishment and represent no one but themselves. Then, they have the audacity to wish the public to finance and support them.”

Cllr David Drew concurred, saying: “Frankly. I sense that this motion is a case of mischief in public office. We’ve got a councillor coming forward asking for money for themselves and I think that is hugely disrespectful.”

Cllr Rebecca Meyer, the motion’s seconder, said that councillors were taking the issue “personally”.

She said: “Mine was more of a procedural motion and it now appears that officers and people can now pick and choose what part of our own constitution we may apply. We have an officer that decided this and then it went on for quite a while.

“I guess now if this doesn’t go through we don’t have to apply our own constitution.”

Cllr Coole, summing up, hit back against those who had criticised him during the debate, which he described as a “slanging match”.

He said: “It degrades this council’s business. It’s a shame they resorted to that. Cllr Matthews quite clearly needs educating about attending constitutional training in understanding the difference between a political party and a political group.

“I shall ignore all his venting of his spleen as it is not productive for this council, as Cllr Rowles quite rightly pointed out. I shall ignore Cllr Drew’s ramblings as many of us always do. As Cllr Meyer quite rightly said, this is a matter of complying with the constitution. If we feel the constitution is incorrect and the minority opposition group leader should not get an allowance then it needs to be amended.

“We don’t see this as a party political broadcast, we’ve been trying to establish this since 2019 and we have been stonewalled for forever and a day.”

The motion then went to a vote. Cllrs Meyer, Coole and Christopher Ecclestone, all members of the Andover Independents, voted in favour, while Cllr Victoria Harber abstained. All others voted against, so the motion was defeated.