Senior politicians awarded themselves an inflation-busting pay rise in the face of fierce criticism.

Members of Conservative-controlled West Sussex County Council rubber-stamped hefty increases in their allowances at a meeting on Friday.

They believe the new settlement - which comes after ten years of tax hikes in the county - represents value for money after they rejected the introduction of a £200,000 pension scheme.

Those already enjoying the largest allowances within the organisation have benefited most, with leader Henry Smith seeing his annual remuneration increase from £26,523 to £29,394 - a rise of 11 per cent on last year.

Cabinet members will pocket £18,283 - up by 14 per cent - while three non-executive committee chairmen will pocket £8,375 - a 27 per cent rise.

Tax-payers have seen their bills go up by 150 per cent since 1993.

The decision was taken despite an independent panel's recommendation to freeze any increases for the next financial year.

Campaign groups branded the decision an "insult to the people of West Sussex".

Coun Smith, who dedicates 60 hours a week to council duties, argued that the increases merely keep allowances in line with those enjoyed by other similar-sized councils.

And while maintaining that being a councillor should remain officially a voluntary role, Coun Smith denied claims of greed by arguing that he and fellow cabinet members could earn far more in private sector roles.

He said: "The first thing to point out is that the remuneration panel's recommendations have been rejected before.

"They recommended that West Sussex county councillors should receive a pension which would have cost the council £200,000 and we rejected that.

"These increases brings us in to line with councils of comparable sizes in this region and I think all of us felt that was the right thing to do.

"I spend around 60 hours a week on my duties as leader of the council and if I was to do take a role with similar responsibilities within the private sector the salary would be far higher.

"I absolutely think being a councillor should be a voluntary role though. The taxpayer can always get better value for money and we are continuing to work towards that."

The independent remuneration panel's report recommending a freeze on allowances in West Sussex said: "Public service, rather than material reward, should be the primary motivation for involvement in local government."

Mark Wallace, a director for the Taxpayers' Alliance pressure group, said: "This pay award is a complete scandal.

"It is shocking that the independent panel which represents ordinary taxpayers on these matters has been flagrantly ignored."