'I'm happy as backbencher' says ex-leader Alec Robertson after pay vote
Former Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson denied he was plotting a political comeback last night, despite engineering moves to overturn an earlier decision to raise councillors' pay.
Last year the Conservative councillor lost his crown as leader of the authority following a vote of no confidence.
Yesterday he infuriated dozens of councillors by successfully putting forward a motion to overturn the decision last October made by full council.
Members had voted to award themselves an increase, bumping their pay from £12,128 to £14,600.
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Initially the council's remuneration panel had recommended a rise to £16,000 a year, but councillors rejected that figure in favour of the £14,600.
Yesterday some 47 members backed Mr Robertson, 34 voted against him and therefore in favour of the rise – seven abstained.
Before the vote was taken some councillors said Mr Robertson had one eye on the forthcoming local elections in May and wanted to appeal to the electorate.
Speaking after the vote Mr Robertson said he was pleased the vote had gone his way.
He said: "No – I have no plans to make a political comeback.
"I didn't want to be council leader – I was asked to do it. I'm happy as a backbencher."
Mr Robertson said he believed the decision in October to raise pay was wrong.
He said: "While the increase may be justifiable because of the hard work councillors do, the £300,000 it would have cost will go back into the base budget and will be spent on services which is what the people of Cornwall want."
During the debate Councillor Rob Nolan, Lib Dem, revealed a family member of Mr Robertson's had emailed him accusing him of being "greedy and corrupt" if he did not back the motion.
Mr Nolan said: "He (Mr Robertson) has earned £150,000 over the last three years, more than any other councillor on Cornwall Council making him the most expensive lap-dog that Cornwall has ever seen.
"I think he should be ashamed."
Speaking after the meeting Mr Robertson would not be drawn on Mr Nolan's comments.
The council pays the third highest allowance rate in the country.
Councillor Alex Folkes, Lib Dem, said with the elections looming in just 78 days' time members should be under "no illusion" why the motion had been brought.
An amendment by Councillor Alex Folkes to defer taking the increase until the new council comes in in May was knocked back.
During the debate councillors who voted in favour of the rise had argued the increase was necessary to attract younger people into local politics.
Councillor John Turner, Lib Dem, said many members were retired living on local government or police pensions.
He said: "This is an issue of democracy.
"This council needs to attract younger people of working age.
"They can't live on £12,000 – it's just not possible."
Councillor Bert Biscoe, Independent, said councillors had not had a rise in eight years and during that time inflation had risen.
He said: "I believe the increase is not unreasonable or immodest."