Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Councillor allowances

Today’s Full Council meeting at County Hall started at 10.30 and ended at about 3.45. Three hours were spent on the debate around councillor’s allowances, with the main focus being on the Independent Panel’s recommendation to increase the basic allowance from £12,128 to £14,600.

It was always going to be a difficult meeting. Many councillors have other incomes, such as pensions, but there are a number of councillors whose principal or only income is their council expenses. How do you come up with a system that fairly suits all?

At the same time, the independent report demonstrated that individual councillors spend differing amounts of time on council duties. One back-bench councillor claimed to only work 5 hrs a week – there was general outrage at this comment. Again, how do you come up with a system that fairly rewards the varied work carried out?

It is well-known that in order to stand for the new authority I had to give up my job at the Council. In making this decision, I had to consider the financial implications with my very understanding wife who subsidises what my father refers to as my “hobby.” The initial Lib Dem proposal for the unitary council specified that there should be 100 councillors each paid £18,000. That did not come to pass and the election was held to elect 123 councillors, to be paid two-thirds of the above amount, with an independent review to be carried out early in the new Council.

I did a ‘back of the fag packet’ calculation and assumed that the role would eventually attract an allowance of between £14,000 - £16,000

I stood in the full knowledge that the role of councillor would probably be full-time and I would do little or no paid work outside of my council duties– at least in the first instance. I also stood in the knowledge that, in order to represent my community, I would lose several thousand pounds income during each of the next four years.

But today’s debate was primarily about politics and not the role of councillors or their responsibilities and their time commitments. I think most people, myself included, would accept that £14,600 is not an inappropriate wage for what is a full-time job for many councillors, but I knew what the result would be before we even entered the Council chamber.

I was told, in advance, that the Conservatives were united in opposing the increase while the Liberal Democrats had a manifesto commitment to do the same. There was only ever going to be one result and the focus was very much on party political positioning for the coming election.

I found the whole thing incredibly uncomfortable and inappropriate and agreed with many councillors that we should not be put in the position to have to agree our own allowances. When it came to the vote, I decided to keep out of the political games and abstained.

Unsurprisingly, I have heard on the grapevine that my Liberal Democrat opponent in the forthcoming General Election is already trying to make political capital out of the fact that I abstained. If nothing else, it proves that the whole episode was indeed about political posturing.

For the record, the recommendation that I should receive an SRA (Special Responsibility Allowance) as Chair of the Planning Policy Panel was passed. I will receive £3,380 per annum for this and I will continue to receive about £400 as the MK Group Leader. I will therefore have an annual income of £16,000 for the coming year.

Also for the record, after the votes, the group leaders were invited outside to be interviewed by Radio Cornwall. I declined the media opportunity and stayed in the Council chamber in order to participate in the discussion on the Council’s housing strategy.


Zetetist said...
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Zetetist said...

Three hours (got the hours right this time!) to discuss a foregone conclusion! So how much time was spent discussing the housing strategy?