TEST Valley's borough councillors have agreed to raise their allowances by more than 10 per cent - by a narrow vote.

Several Conservative councillors decided to back the Liberal Democrats in opposing the rise which went through on a recorded vote by 18 to 14.

The decision means from next April ordinary 'back-bench' councillors will be paid £4,874 a year.

An independent panel recommended the increase to the council and based its recommendation on the average hourly rate paid to employees in Hampshire, which in 2001, stood at £12.62. Cllr Jack Taylor, described the money paid to the borough's 43 councillors as a 'nice little earner'.

"This is a very large rise - where did public service go?" he asked. "A 10 per cent rise will not be supported by the people of Test Valley and we should not hide behind the panel's recommendation as it is our decision. We are taking this money from the citizens of Test Valley.

"How can we justify this rise as we are already overpaid." Liberal Democrat Alan Dowden said he didn't claim a penny during his first four years as a councillor but was convinced to by others who needed some recompense.

"At the present time when times are hard we need to set an example," he said.

"Councillors quite franklyare overpaid." Council leader Ian Carr, said: "This is the recommendation of an independent panel which was set up solely to deal with this matter."

The increase will take effect from next April, just before the next elections, and Ian Carr considered it necessary to attract more people to stand.

From next April the leader of the council will receive a total allowance of £14,159, while executive portfolio holders will get £11,374.