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Greater Expectations

Greater ExpectationsLast year we reported plans to double the Commissar's discretionary allowance from 3,000 a year to 6,000 and then to 9,000. But when push came to shove, the cash strapped Council decided not to implement the planned increase, and left things as they were. Last night however, they considered the matter again and, (perhaps because they are no longer so cash strapped?) voted to approve increases to Councillors pay, backdated to last April.

Details of how Councillors pay is set, and which aspects are mandatory an discretionary was set out last year in Double Your Money, and this year the panel advised on new increases following the Commissars change to the Leader and Politburo Cabinet system.

They were persuaded to say that if the Council didn't take their advice on what Councillors should be paid, they would like to appear before the Council to ask for their role to be clarified. (Most people took this to mean "what's the point of our advising you if you don't take our advice")

counterbalance wonders if we could try this sort of threat to get our advice followed, but as we don't generally recommend pay increases, we don't hold out much hope.

The new pay rates are as follows

Mandatory basic allowances for each Councillor increased from 3,000 to 3,500

Discretionary increases in special responsibility allowances:

  • Leader of the Council 3,000 to 6,000
  • Deputy leader 1,500  to nil
  • Members of cabinet (formerly executive committee) 3,000 to 4,000
  • Chairmen of scrutiny committees 3,000 to 3,250
  • Vice-chairmen of scrutiny committees 1,500 to 1,625
  • Chairman of development control committee 3,000 to 3,250
  • Vice-chairman of development control committee 1,500  to 1,625
  • Chairman of public protection committee 1,550 to 1,625 71
  • Vice-chairman of public protection committee 775 to 812.50
  • Chairman of licensing committee 1,550 to 1,625
  • Vice-chairman of licensing committee 775 to 812.50
  • Chairman of standards committee 1,800 to 1,900
  • Vice-chairman of standards committee 900 to 950
  • Member champions 250 unchanged
  • Leader of each political group (per group member) 30 to 32

Overall, the pay increases will add about 40,000 a year to the Council Tax bill. This equates to a bit less than 1 extra on each band D property in Fylde).

In addition to these payments, Councillors can claim expenses such as travelling, subsistence, childcare and dependent carers allowances.

The panel's report majors on the fact that if the increases are not paid, it will be more difficult to ensure that councillors can be drawn from all sectors of the community, not just those who could afford the time.

They also said the changing role of the Commissar in leading the Politburo Cabinet was not recognised adequately in the present allowances scheme.

They based their advice mostly on comparison of data from other local authorities as presented to them by one of the Council's officers.

Opening the debate, Commissar Coombes said he wanted to re-inforce the points made by the panel, and as most councillors would know, their tax-free allowance of 2,200 had been removed this year, so most of the increase would be swallowed up by having to pay tax on the money.

Councillor Linda Nulty from Wesham said she didn't see how they could justify the rise of 40,000

Queen Elizabeth (Oades) of Kirkham summed it up when she said  the Council had cut the grant to Citizens Advice Bureau and Age Concern, and halved the money that should have been spent on pensioners bus travel and it was atrocious to propose any increase at all. She formally proposed that allowances remain unchanged. This was seconded by Paul Hayhurst.

Councillor Bill Thompson of Lytham proposed a bigger increase for the Chairman of the Development Control Committee who he felt was not adequately remunerated. He proposed it should be 4,000 rather than 3,000 a year and a commensurate increase for the Vice Chairman.

Councillor Mulholand (possibly soon to join the Conservatives after his recent elevation?) said they didn't cut the grant to CAB and Age Concern because the Council was cash strapped, but to make them give better value for money (sic).

Councillor Maxine Chew (who now seems to be acquiring the confidence to speak up - and well) said she was appalled that all members got the basic allowance whether they turned up at meetings or not. She said she didn't want to be paid at all, only to have her expenses covered, and no more.

Councillor Roger Small said it was always an emotive issue, and some of what had been said was incorrect, but if they wanted to attract new, younger members to produce a more even cross section of Councillors for the future, they would need to pay the increases. [counterbalance thinks there couldn't really be an even more cross section of Councillors than the ones that are now powerless to influence decisions - but he probably didn't mean that]

Regular readers will know we disagree with this philosophy.  We have said before that there can be no objection to anyone drawing legitimate expenses for travelling and so on, but to be paid to be a Councillor is wrong. Representing an electorate should be an honour, not a job or even a substitute for one.

The driving force for service to the community should be the respect of that community, coupled with the desire to work for that community without reward.

That is why earlier councillors were so highly regarded. They had made their mark in life, and thus had both the time and the experience, coupled with an altruistic desire, to give something back to the society that had treated them well.

Thus our councillors of old were respected and prominent people of independent means rather than political apparatchiks in thrall to a party, or in need of financial support.

The very act of payment transforms an independent person into one who is at least subconsciously beholden to the piper that is calling the tune. This effect increases as the amount paid moves closer toward being a "wage".

More especially, the payment of differing allowances to different 'classes' of Councillor is divisive. It creates division and aspiration within an organisation that should be motivated by the common good. It denies the truth that all who are elected should have an equal say, and it further politicises local government to the detriment of all.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the process of payment will remove the distinction between elected Council members and their staff.

This is a very dangerous route to travel. Like the separation of the executive from the judiciary, the system needs the tension between councillors and officers to work properly.

Paying Councillors is therefore a bad idea in principle.

Our view found resonance with Councillor Paul Hayhurst who said that it puts up the wage bill and cuts services to the public. Fylde is one of the smallest councils and should be seen in that context. He said it was also wrong that more allowances produced better Councillors. In previous times payments like these were not made and Councillors were better - today they had a lot of "yes people" who took decisions behind closed doors and that is what put prospective Councillors off.

Councillor Paul Rigby, new to the Conservative fold, said they should take note of the panel, and that Age Concern had offered no real resistance to  what he called realistic funding cuts.

At this point the debate wound up with Councillor Hayhurst calling for a recorded vote. If passed, this would have meant listing each Councillor's name in the minutes, and showing whether they voted for, against, or abstained on the pay increase.

However, when they voted on whether to have a recorded vote or not, the Conservative benches were thick with "No" votes, and according to the teller, the vote was 13 for recording who voted which way, and 24 against, so the move was lost.

The vote to adopt the pay increases backdated to last April was passed by roughly the same majority.

So next year, something will have 40,000 less spent on it.

Dated: 25 July 2006


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