Controversial £15,000 annual payments handed to Birmingham City Council leaders as a reward for being members of the NEC board could be scrapped.

Members of an independent review of council expenses and allowances are urging council leader Mike Whitby, opposition Labour leader Sir Albert Bore and cabinet regeneration member Neville Summerfield to give up their NEC wages, which were approved last June.

Deputy leader Paul Tilsley has said he does not intend to claim the money.

An Independent Remuneration Panel pointed out that councillors Whitby, Bore, Summefield and Tilsley already receive special responsibility allowances to cover the extra work they undertake, ranging from £56,000 to £14,000, on top of a basic allowance of £16,000.

Coun Whitby’s council salary, without the NEC payment, totals £72,000, Coun Tilsley gets £58,000, Coun Summerfield £48,000 and Coun Bore £30,000.

The panel found that basic allowances paid to Birmingham city councillors are the highest anywhere in the country.

In the past five years, the number of councillors receiving a special responsibility allowance has more than doubled to 50.

Just over 40 per cent of councillors get the additional payment, compared to 19 per cent in 2005. Recommendations from the panel will be discussed and voted on at next month’s full council meeting.

The decision to approve a £15,000 allowance for NEC board membership caused a storm of protest in the toughest recession for decades. Council leaders were accused of being out of touch with the difficulties faced by ordinary families. Some Tory and Liberal Democrat backbenchers made their concerns clear, and the TaxPayers’ Alliance accused the council of insensitivity.

If the panel’s proposals are accepted, council allowances will be frozen in 2010-11. Members said the continuing difficult economic climate and pressures on public spending made an increase, even at the 1.9 per cent rate of inflation, inappropriate.

The pay freeze brings councillors into line with council staff and chief officers, who will also not receive a pay rise this year.

Panel chairman Graham Macro accepted that the £15,000 payments come from the NEC budget rather than the council.

But he added: “The panel does urge the council to consider introducing a claw-back measure to rebalance the remuneration paid for by the taxpayer to those councillors who are already in receipt of an added allowance in recognition of their additional responsibilities.”

Mr Macro is inviting the NEC board members to “forego” their special payments.

He added: “The recession has been tough on local communities and public services. The future of public services is of concern.

“Consequently, as the public purse is being adjusted downwards, the panel is recommending that all councillors’ allowances are frozen.”

The panel rejected calls for councillors who are members of fostering and adoption panels to be paid an additional allowance.

The panel is to carry out a “root and branch” review of the council allowance scheme this autumn, amid concerns about spiralling costs.