MOVES to give councillors pay rises of 17 to 36 per cent were backed on Wednesday - as was an inflation-busting council tax hike of 4.9 per cent.

Bournemouth Borough Council's Conservative cabinet approved the rises without a debate.

Unless challenged at the meeting of the full council on Thursday, February 21, the decision means a 34 per cent pay rise for the leader of the council, a 36 per cent pay rise for the deputy leader and a rise of nearly 32 per cent for every cabinet member. Backbench councillors will receive 17 per cent.

Mark Wallace, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said the move was "disgraceful," coming from a "supposedly cash-strapped council".

"This money does not come from thin air. It is paid for by hard-working taxpayers who increasingly struggle to pay the record levels of tax.

"The council's money is meant to be spent on essential services, not on feathering councillors' nests."

Council leader Cllr Stephen MacLoughlin, who is set to pocket almost £36,000 a year, stressed the recommendations had been made by an independent panel.

But this failed to impress former colleague David Clutterbuck, who is now chairman of the East Cliff and Town Centre Residents' Association, who said councillors' benefits already included a free laptop, free broadband and a free car park pass.

"When I was first on the council 20 years ago all we got was expenses," he said.

"You got an allowance of £12 when you turned up. Now there's nothing to stop you not going.

"Cllr MacLoughlin ought to show proper leadership and turn this down in a time of restraint."

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Claire Smith said her group would be proposing that the increases are delayed and then phased in.

"Council services are under such pressure that we feel these rises are not appropriate at this time," she said.

"I question it particularly because it's the cabinet members who are going to get the biggest remuneration from this and we now have an extra three cabinet posts."

Independent group leader Cllr Anne Rey said councillors were due for a rise but questioned whether members should be allowed to hold a multitude of top posts, earning them tens of thousands of pounds.

And Cllr Ben Grower, Labour group leader, said: "Allowances ought to be set nationally. Councillors shouldn't have to decide one way or another."

In 2002/03, when Bournemouth and switched from the old attendance-based scheme in line with government wishes, the base payment made to all councillors was £6,940. The leader of the council was paid an additional £10,410 to give a total of £17,350, and cabinet members received a total of £13,880.