COUNCILS have been criticised for increasing member allowances each year, while continuing to cut service budgets elsewhere.

New research by the TaxPayers' Alliance reveals that across the UK, £699 million has been paid out to local councillors in allowances over the last three years.

Four out of five Gwent local authorities increased their councillor allowances, in the face of economic hardship.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Taxpayers will be shocked to discover the rate at which councillors' allowances have risen over the last three years, despite local authorities pleading poverty and in many cases raising council tax or cutting services.

"It goes to show that not every council has prioritised finding savings or cutting taxes over awarding local politicians above inflation allowances."

All councillors are entitled to a basic allowance, which for Welsh councils was set at £13,300 in 2014-15, while those holding senior roles are usually entitled to special responsibility allowances (SRAs) - highest in Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taf with £39,700.

Members are also able to claim for expenses such as mileage and subsistence on top of this, while arrangements for IT or carers’ allowances vary from council to council.

Newport City Council's total allowances and expenses bill went from £896,842 in 2012/13 to £915,862 in 2014/15, while Monmouthshire's increased from £813,332 to £822,631.

Elsewhere, Blaenau Gwent's went up from £751,113 to £776,387, and Torfaen's total increased by a more modest amount from £796,455 to £801,094.

However, Caerphilly's total actually fell from £1,197,966 to £1,181,377 over three years.

The Welsh council with the highest total allowances and expenses paid in 2014-15 was Flintshire with a bill of £1,366,000, and the lowest bill was £589,000 on the Isle of Anglesey.

Cllr Peter Fox, leader of Monmouthshire County Council, said: “For many years councillors argued that setting rates of pay should be taken out of their hands and this was achieved when the Independent Remuneration Panel of Wales was set up in 2008.

"In addition, many councillors voluntarily forego remuneration to which they’re entitled for meals, mileage and childcare.

"The 1.1 per cent increase for allowances and expenses incurred by Monmouthshire’s councillors in the years 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15 is a very modest rise and falls far short of the inflation rate for the period.

"Furthermore, the Independent Remuneration Panel of Wales has announced that councillors’ rates of pay will stand still this year.”

A Torfaen council spokesman said: "The Independent Remuneration Panel, which is an independently appointed panel created to set salary and allowance levels across local Government in Wales, raised the level of basic salary provided to Members in April 2014 which most of our elected members chose not to take."

A CCBC spokesman said, “Members’ allowances across Wales are recommended by an Independent Remuneration Panel and the number of Councillors within each local authority area is determined by the size of the population. Caerphilly is one of the largest local authorities in Wales with 73 ward members, therefore our overall amount will reflect this fact.”

And a Newport City Council spokesman added: "The Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales is an independent Welsh Government sponsored body whose statutory duties include keeping under review the number of councillors for a local authority and the areas they represent.

"Every elected councillor receives a salary of £13,300, an amount determined by the Independent Remuneration Panel.

"A maximum of 18 Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs), inclusive of the basic salary, are available to the Council for payments to specific posts. The number of SRA’s and the amounts paid by Newport City Council were determined by the Independent Remuneration panel. Newport City Council has chosen to only have 17 councillors who are paid SRA’s."

Blaenau Gwent did not provide a statement.