A row has broken out after Flintshire Council was told it should cut the number of senior politicians in order to save money.
The authority currently has eight cabinet members, which was reduced from 10 in 2012.
An opposition group leader has now suggested the amount should be slashed to as little as three as the authority is faced with a potential financial shortfall of about £15m next year.
The idea was put forward by Cllr Patrick Heesom, leader of the New Independents Group, who claimed it could save £300,000.
However, he was accused of taking a ‘cheap shot’ by Labour council leader Aaron Shotton and told the actual savings would be half that amount.
The fraught debate came as councillors voiced their opposition to a proposed pay rise put forward by the The Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales (IRPW) at a full council meeting yesterday.
Speaking at the start of the meeting at County Hall in Mold, Cllr Shotton said: “Despite all the protestations of Theresa May that austerity is over, it isn’t.
“Austerity isn’t over for our services and neither is it for our residents.
“Therefore I don’t believe that these recommended increases in the allowances for councillors are justifiable and neither are they appropriate at a time of austerity.
“I would move that in response to the recommendations of the IRPW that the full body of members of this council ask them not to increase the salary and to reject the proposals.”
The panel has suggested an increase of about £800 per year for cabinet members, who currently earn £29,100.
Meanwhile, a rise of just under £270 was mooted for councillors on the basic salary of £13,600.
While every councillor in Flintshire voted in favour of objecting to the proposals, Cllr Heesom suggested the authority could go further.
He said: “I commend the leader’s representation and fully support it.
“These are times when all small savings add up and I wonder in the fullness of time whether he’d be prepared to give consideration to what I understand is a requirement for an authority of this size to actually only have three cabinet members.
“Accordingly, therefore we could sacrifice five of those seats and probably save £300,000 for our difficulties.
“I wonder whether he’d be kind enough to carry his goodwill and public spirit as far as balancing the cabinet down to three members and thereby a much greater contribution could go back to the public purse.”
When challenged on the figures by Cllr Ian Roberts, cabinet member for education, he said they were ‘only an estimate’.
Gareth Owens, the authority’s chief officer for governance, said the actual savings from cutting the number of cabinet members by five would be £150,000 before pension contributions are added.
Cllr Shotton appeared angered by his rival’s comments and said the question of how many cabinet members the council should have was not in the report.
He said: “It isn’t a legitimate question actually, it’s not on the agenda and it’s not in the recommendations.
“The determinations of the panel are in reference to salary recommendations.
“The issue in terms of how many people are serving this cabinet, whether it was the ten prior to 2012 or the eight since 2012 or whether it should be less in the future is a matter for the AGM of the council which comes in May.
“It’s a cheap shot.”
Officers will now write a response to the IRPW reflecting councillors’ views on the suggested pay rise, but the final decision rests with the outside body, which was set up by the Welsh Government.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).