THE leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is in line for a 15 per cent pay rise as a swathe of cuts risk the future of community groups.
Councillors are recommending David Jukes and his cabinet members each pocket more than £2,000 extra a year in allowances, a higher increase than suggested by an independent panel.
A council advisory board, which Mr Jukes sits on, rejected proposals by the Independent Remuneration Panel for him to receive a £2,186 rise and instead opted for a £2,500 hike. Members also said cabinet members should receive £2,010 extra – or 22 per cent – rather than the £478 suggested.
A final decision will be made by the full council but the idea of senior councillors increasing their allowances during an economic downturn has been met with criticism.
Mike Bassett is a trustee of the Rusthall Community and Youth Project which is fighting for survival after the council said it would have to cut its annual £6,000 grant entirely.
Mr Bassett said: "We are all volunteers at the youth project so we're concerned increases in funds for officials are happening in these stringent times."
Rachel Sadler, a campaigner for Residents Against Gross Extortion which opposes increases in parking, said Mr Jukes should justify the rise.
She said: "As a resident of Tunbridge Wells, I am astounded that David Jukes feels he deserves such a pay rise.
"My suggestion would be that his pay rise should be related to his level of contribution within the community.
"For example, if he and his colleagues were to finally take action on the old cinema site, I would perhaps feel a pay rise of this magnitude would be justified."
At a meeting of the finance and governance cabinet advisory board on Thursday, councillors were given an option to pick between remuneration packages proposed by the Joint Independent Remuneration Panel, a group made up of five members of the public, or a different scheme suggested by borough council officers.
The advisory board chose the officers' suggestion, which also included increasing the basic allowance paid to all 48 councillors by £221.
Despite the proposed pay increases, the amount dished out in total through allowances would be £643 less next year.
This is due to cost cutting, including the abolition of the standards committee, having five cabinet members rather than six, proposals to merge the two planning committees and the introduction of cabinet advisory boards rather than separate committees.
The independent panel's suggestion would have added £37,000 to the allowances budget.
Nevertheless, Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said increasing their own pay would lead councillors to face a public backlash.
He said: "The councillors must reject these proposals if they are to have the moral authority to oversee the necessary savings in the years ahead.
"If these proposals are not rejected, Tunbridge Wells residents will have every right to feel badly let down by their civic leaders."
Caroline Miles, who runs Red Box Cameras in Tunbridge Wells and blames the council for failing to support small businesses in the town, was "incredulous" on hearing of the increases.
"I don't think there is anyone who would support them getting any more money," she said.
"I think it beggars belief and, in fact, it seems quite insensitive. I am really surprised, it is just bizarre."
Mr Jukes refused to comment until after the matter had been discussed by the cabinet.
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