COUNCILLORS have voted overwhelmingly against taking a pay rise, rejecting it as "a massive disservice to the county".

A recommended 2% increase in councillors' allowances prompted numerous declarations in a full council meeting.

But there was no argument about the outcome as Durham County Council members agreed it would be wrong to take a rise.

An independent remuneration panel had recommended a 2% increase in councillors' basic allowance, costing £33,516, in the next financial year.

The £13,300 allowance for each of the 126 councillors has been unchanged in more than a decade, with three previous recommended increases rejected.

Councillor Richard Bell, Conservative group leader, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said: "The joint administration... is not making a recommendation, leaving it to the judgment of every member.

"Issues like this should not be decided by group leaders. It's time that members considered these issues for themselves as a free vote.

"I see no real need to have a protracted debate on this matter."

He said it was "disappointing" to have to consider the allowance and the council had written to the Secretary of State last year "saying we should not be involved in this process", to no avail.

Labour group leader Cllr Carl Marshall agreed, saying: "As politicians we shouldn't be expected at all to be discussing allowances that are paid to us.

"If ever there was a conflict of interest, I think that is.

"From my point of view and from the Labour group's point of view, it's absolutely scandalous that we can be sitting here looking at anything like a 2% increase in allowances.

"We are unanimous in our views as individuals as part of that group that it's unacceptable."

He said many residents were "on a financial cliff edge" facing a cost-of-living crisis with job losses, a public sector pay freeze and £0.25bn council spending cuts after a "horrendous 10 years".

He added: "We shouldn't be having a pay increase.

"We think it's unfair, unjust, it goes against the grain with the staff and the troubles that our communities are going to be facing.

"We should be concentrating on looking at how we can minimise increases in council tax and providing the best quality support and services."

Fellow Labour member Cllr Maura McKeon said: "Labour have always voted down pay increases such as this because we're still living through a Tory and Lib Dem-imposed austerity against local government and the North-east."

Conservative Cllr Joe Quinn said: "I come from a working class background. My wife is a key worker who, like many of the residents in my ward, has worked tirelessly over the pandemic.

"It's places like Ferryhill that have kept this country going throughout these tough times.

"I for one will be doing what I think is right and not voting in favour of a pay rise.

"I believe this money is better spent within the community and not directly into someone's pocket.

"We in the joint administration believe in saving costs in the most efficient way possible with the least consequence to the public.

"I never got into this job for the money. For me the rewarding part of this role is tackling the issues within the community, listening to the people of Ferryhill, and most importantly representing the people that put me in this position.

"For me that's worth more than any pay rise."

Cllr Simon Wilson added: "The people over the last two years have been needing to use food banks, have been left in perilous employment situations."

He said taking an allowance rise would do "a massive disservice to the county".

Cllr Lucy Hovvels said: "This actually puts a sour taste in my mouth and I think it will also do the same for the residents.

"Throughout the last few years we've seen people, families within our communities struggling, not only for food but... even for a bed to lie on.

"And yet we're sitting here discussing this. I find it very distasteful."

Cllr Joanne Howey said: "I do it for the love of wanting to help people, not for the money, so I will be voting against any pay rise."

Cllr Patricia Jopling said: "I'd like to ask that we go straight to the vote.

"There's no acrimony over this. There's full agreement in this chamber that we're not going to vote for this pay rise.

"I don't think we need an hour of political speeches."

In the final vote, 103 councillors voted in favour of Cllr Marshall's motion for no allowance increase. None opposed and three abstained.