BRIDGWATER town councillors have voted to accept a recommendation that will see them able to accept an allowance worth £1,240 per year.

The proposals were presented to to councillors in an external report from Somerset Council's Parish, Town and City Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) at a full council meeting on Thursday, February 1.

The allowance is eight per cent of the basic allowance received by Somerset Council members (£15,000).

The figure was calculated based on the size of the town's electorate, meaning the allowances available in the county's other towns and parishes will vary.

Until now, councillors have been able to claim up to £500 in expenses – but none have made any claims in this financial year.

The mayor has an annual expenses budget of £5,000.

Two Labour councillors spoke in support of accepting the panel's recommendation, saying members deserve to be recompensed for their work – especially as the town council is taking on more devolved responsibilities because of Somerset Council's financial emergency.

This includes street cleaning, road sweeping and management of parks and open spaces.

But the opposition Conservative group argued it is the wrong time to accept an allowance as residents face the cost-of-living crisis.

The vote to adopt the yearly allowance took place before councillors approved the town council's 2024-25 budget, which will see a hike in council tax.

Before the debate and vote, town clerk David Mears said: “It is entirely up to you as councillors to decide to adopt this scheme, and it’s down to you on an annual basis whether to accept that - you can decline it.”

He also described the £1,240 figure per councillor (totalling £19,840) as a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the overall budget and to Somerset councillors' allowances.

Bridgwater Mercury: Cllr Brian Smedley, leader of the town council.Cllr Brian Smedley, leader of the town council. (Image: Brian Smedley)

Town council leader Brian Smedley (Westover, Labour) said: “This is a becoming a regular situation across smaller councils as they take on more responsibility.

“It’s probably not appreciated that normally town and parish councillors do not get paid.

“So, since Bridgwater Town Council has been in existence since 2003, none of the councillors have received any money.

“However, Sedgemoor councillors and Somerset county councillors have.

“Sedgemoor no longer exists, and one the things we’re looking to do is take on some of the services that Sedgemoor has lost and Somerset is losing.

“So there will be more responsibilities, and people will appreciate it’s only fair people should be remunerated for work they put in.

“It’s fair and overdue that councillors should be given some recompense for this.

“I think it’s appropriate that we accept this independent report – it’s not a report that was presented or created by us, it was recommended with evidence.”

The Conservative group, represented by councillors Gill Slocombe and Diogo Rodrigues (who also sit on Somerset Council) voted against adopting the scheme.

Bridgwater Mercury: Cllr Diogo Rodrigues has started a petition calling for the decision to be reversed.Cllr Diogo Rodrigues has started a petition calling for the decision to be reversed. (Image: Diogo Rodrigues)

Cllr Slocombe said: “We the Conservative group believe this is not the time to take a personal allowance. At this point, we have never taken costs.

“This is during a cost-of-living crisis and our residents are having to make their own difficult decisions.

“We cannot justify introducing an allowance for town councillors at this time.”

Cllr Rodrigues said: “I’d argue that the residents who pay their town council tax and live on minimum wage would say that £1,200 per councillor is a huge amount.

“I don’t recall in any of our manifestos when we got elected telling residents that we could be charging to pay an allowance to the councillors.

“I will absolutely be voting against this; it’s the wrong time, it’s the wrong thing to do.”

In response, Cllr Tim Mander (Westover, Labour) blamed the central government and Somerset's former Tory administration for county's £100 million budget gap.

“I will not take any lectures from Cllr Rodrigues or the rights and wrongs of this, and I think it’s only fair that the people who are having to pick up the pieces should be recompensed slightly for some of their time - we’re talking about £3 a day, it’s worked out at, per person and per councillor,” he said.

“It’s next to nothing for the time and effort we’re having to put in to try and rescue the situation and stop Bridgwater turning into a tumbleweed town which, if we did nothing, is what would happen.”

Cllr Rodrigues has launched an online petition calling for Bridgwater Town Council to reverse the decision to introduce the allowance.

He plans to present the petition to town councillors at their next meeting.