WILTSHIRE county councillors have voted themselves a 12.5 per cent increase in their basic allowance following a review by an independent panel.

Every elected member will receive £6,750 for the year beginning September 2003.

The allowance for the previous year was £6,000.

Members voted in the changes at a meeting of the county council last week.

The three-member independent panel put together a report about the allowances paid to county councillors, taking into account a members' questionnaire about workload and time commitment, advice offered by the Local Government Association and allowances paid by similar shire counties.

The panel wanted an easy to understand scheme that took into account the fact that membership of the local authority was voluntary, but people should not be prevented from standing for office on financial grounds.

They also wanted to make sure the allowance reflected the time members spent on casework and local community work.

County council chairman Jerry Willmott qualifies for a special responsibility allowance of £6,750.

The current major portfolio holders, Judy Seager and Fleur de Rhe-Philipe, qualify for special allowancesof £8,500 and Nancy Bryant, who chairs the regulatory committee gets an allowance of £4,750.

Members can also make claims if they have caring responsibilities and for mileage travelled.

Environmentally friendly travel will also be rewarded, with a cycling allowance of 40p per mile.

New Government regulations also allow the county council to decide whether councillors should have access to the Local Government Pension Scheme.

But the county council decided not to implement this scheme, which could have cost as much as £62,000 a year.

The increase in allowances and special responsibility allowances is set to cost an extra £60,000 a year.

In the year 2002-03 county councillors' expenses totalled £419,372.