By Monica Gibson

AT a time when people across East Renfrewshire face having to tighten their belt to cope with council tax hikes, the thought of bumper pay rises for elected members may well be hard to swallow.

Last month, the Barrhead News revealed East Renfrewshire Council (ERC) is planning to axe up to 300 jobs and make “significant” reductions to services as it tries to cope with £26million worth of budget cuts.

That financial black hole is also set to lead to council tax bills soaring by nearly 10 per cent over the next three years.

Despite the cash crisis, the local authority has defended its decision to increase the amount of money paid to elected members.

The basic annual pay for councillors is £16,927 but a number of elected members in East Renfrewshire are receiving considerably more than this.

Among them is Barrhead, Liboside and Uplawmoor member Angela Convery, who receives £21,160 for her role as chair of the licensing committee.

This salary is 25 per cent more than the £16,893 paid to her predecessor, Councillor Tommy Reilly, last year.

Three councillors for Clarkston, Netherlee and Williamwood are also receiving £21,160 for roles that commanded a salary of £19,005 last year.

They are Cllr Alan Lafferty (environment convenor), Cllr Stewart Miller (chair of the audit and scrutiny committee) and Cllr Annette Ireland (chair of the planning applications committee).

The same applies to Cllr Colm Merrick, the SNP representative for Giffnock and Newton Mearns, who is being paid £21,160 as community services and community safety convener – a role that earned his predecessor Mary Montague £19,005.

Meanwhile, Cllr Danny Devlin, who represents Barrhead, Liboside and Uplawmoor, received £19,005 as convener for housing and maintenance services last year but his salary has been bumped up to £21,160 for the same role.

Cllr Paul O’Kane, of Newton Mearns North and Neilston, is enjoying a more modest pay rise, as he has been promoted from vice-convener for education and equalities in 2016/17 to convener this year, with his salary increasing from £20,968 to £21,160.

Provost Jim Fletcher is also receiving a salary of £21,160 but this is a meagre £42 more than his predecessor Alastair Carmichael.

Unsurprisingly, the highest-paid elected member is council leader Tony Buchanan, who earns £28,213.

However, this is just £56 more than was paid for that role last year.

John O’Connell, chief executive at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, believes the pay increases for some councillors are “grossly inappropriate” in the current financial climate.

He said: “Councillors should focus on getting spending under control and on essential services to prevent any more of these inappropriate council tax hikes.”

Steven Larkin, secretary of UNISON’s East Renfrewshire branch, added: “Given the current and ongoing financial situation that ERC is facing, UNISON and the other Joint Trade Unions would expect that all additional expenditure would be subject to the same scrutiny that is currently being undertaken via the public consultation.

“However, we also believe that individuals should be paid what is the appropriate remuneration for their work and would expect any of our members who are taking on additional work to be recompensed in the same manner.”

A spokesman for ERC defended the pay increases when contacted by the Barrhead News.

He said: “In line with legislation, the basic annual pay for councillors is £16,927.

“This legislation also sets the pay for Leaders and Provosts and specifies the maximum number of senior councillors a council of our size can designate, as well as the maximum amount they can be paid.

“The amount paid to senior councillors is in line with this guidance and the number of senior councillor posts within the new administration has reduced from nine to eight.”