Saturday 5th March 2011
The payment of councillors has been the subject of
a great deal of discussion recently and there is a distinct feeling that
they are getting too much. Members of Lincolnshire County Council
obviously do not agree because they are actually planning to give
themselves a hefty increase.
All 77 elected members receive a basic annual allowance of £8,184 with
extra cash for those who serve on the executive and on committees but the
authority has now set aside the sum of £250,000 for an increase which will
boost allowances by 22% to £10,000 a year. This comes at a time of massive
budget cuts of around £57 million for the authority caused by the curb on
public spending with 818 jobs facing the axe and a total of 3,200 staff
currently undergoing consultation about their future.
The increase in allowances will need a majority vote by councillors, due
to be held on May 20th, just five days before redundancy notices are
handed to employees. But the protests are already rumbling because John
Sharman, secretary for the county branch of Unison, told the
Lincolnshire Echo (February 21st): “I would have thought that
councillors would want to be extremely careful about the message they give
to their employees as well as the people of Lincolnshire.”
There have also been misgivings about payments to councillors on
South Kesteven District Council, also Conservative controlled, with a
complaint about the amount collected by the leader, Councillor Linda Neal
(Bourne West). The 58 elected members get a basic allowance of £4,373.50
plus expenses with cabinet and committee members receiving more through
special responsibility increments.
The list of payments for 2009-10 was published by the Stamford Mercury
on February 11th which showed that the highest sum went to Councillor Neal
with £22,378 while other Bourne members of the council received lesser
amounts, cabinet member John Smith (£14,344), Judy Smith (£5,943), Trevor
Holmes (£5,074), Bob Russell (£4,851) and David Higgs (£4,557). This
prompted a letter from Miss M Sibborn, of Fir Avenue, Bourne, who wrote
that she was astonished by the amount paid to Councillor Neal
“She claims a special allowance of more than £14,000”, wrote Miss Sibborn.
“Add to this her other claims and the total adds up to more than my yearly
income yet not only am I required to pay council tax but also income tax.
All of this money comes out of our council tax and government allowances
which essentially means that the council is employed by us. Are we
therefore not entitled to see the job descriptions and why this amount
equals in expenses and allowances more than many people’s income?”
Councillor Neal replied with a spirited defence of her take home pay in a
letter to the newspaper the following week (February 25th) explaining that
she put in more than 50 hours a week for her allowances which worked out
at less than the minimum wage. “The leader’s responsibilities are many and
varied”, she wrote, “and require me to be available at any time and travel
significant distances. There is an immense amount of reading and it is not
unusual to be responding to emails well into the early hours, past 2 am,
as there is not time during office hours. As far as expenses are
concerned, they are not a perk but a refund of travel costs incurred while
on official business. To fulfil my role, I had to buy a small vehicle and
as I nearly always travel alone and often in the dark, it needs to be
No one can deny Councillor Neal’s dedication to duty but it does seem
unsatisfactory that she should be working such long hours and many will
wonder what the other 57 members are doing while she is burning the
midnight oil, not to mention the salaried officers, remembering that the
authority’s eleven-strong management team are currently being paid a
whopping £843,000 a year between them which, with their pension
entitlements, is 6.25% of the authority’s entire budget, while the
authority employs more than 700 other staff and a small army of
consultants who command exorbitant fees. Do they all clock up 50 hours a
week and work into the early hours?
If there is so much to be done to keep the council ticking over, then many
will ask why Councillor Neal and her colleagues approved a five-month
leave of absence in 2008 for the then chief executive, Duncan Kerr, to
enable him cycle around Europe? There is a moral here because in the
event, he was not even missed, thus proving the old adage that no one is
The payment of councillors is comparatively new. Our present
council system dates back to the Local Government Act of 1894 which was
championed through Parliament by the Prime Minister, William Gladstone,
thus putting the administration of our affairs at local level in the hands
of councils with elected members to run them. There have been many changes
since, notably the reorganisation of 1974, and we now have a three tier
system at county, district and parish or town level, each authority with
its own elected councillors, although many belong to two, sometimes even
all three, a massive and unwieldy combination of bureaucratic control in
the hands of an army of local members and salaried officials.
They were originally unpaid, undertaking the work willingly, a role which
produced men of outstanding talent. Most worked tirelessly for the greater
good, such as William Wherry (1841-1915), a local businessman who became a
councillor and county alderman, whose service to the community was
activated by the highest motives and has been unequalled since. He took
every opportunity to promote the welfare of the town and its people, being
such a busy man and so dedicated to serving the community that shortly
before he retired from public life because of ill health, his numerous
offices and positions of responsibility numbered almost 100 and he did not
receive a penny for any of them.
Councillors were first allowed to charge expenses in 1972 and the system
of a regular allowance was introduced in 1995, mainly to reimburse them
for their time but the effect in many places has been to create a
generation of professional town hall politicians. In the past five years,
thousands have seen their allowances soar, in some cases up to 150%, much
to the dismay of central government.
The local government minister, Grant Shapps, told the Daily Mail
(February 15th) that it was not justifiable for hikes in councillors'
allowances when public sector workers are facing a two year pay freeze. He
added: "We’re all in this together and those who hold public office need
to lead by example. Councillors must remain arms length volunteers. It
will be harmful for local democracy if they become the bank rolled staff
of the town hall dependent on the municipal pay packet."
Many regard the payment of elected councillors as a retrograde step and
indeed those who serve on the town council do not receive anything
although there have been suggestions that they should and so that time may
not be far off. Like Members of Parliament, they know what their
allowances and expenses are before being elected but the evidence is that
once in office they try to manipulate the system to their own advantage.
The problem is that this trend may be turning our local authorities into a
gravy train rather than a vehicle for the delivery of public services with
many retired people seeking office as a means of supplementing their
pensions and it can be no coincidence that the majority of those who fill
the council chambers throughout the land are old age pensioners.
In the past, service was of prime importance and that was the reason for
standing but times are changing and because being a councillor takes its
toll on their time and pocket, many good people would be unwilling to seek
election without some form of remuneration for their trouble. What is
needed, as in all things, is moderation, and once the electorate become
dissatisfied with what they are hearing, then they are likely to seek a
change and the place for that is the ballot box at the local elections.
Thought for the week: The total amount of allowances and expenses
paid to the 77 members of Lincolnshire County Council during 2009-10 was
in excess of £1.3 million while the 58 members of South Kesteven District
council collected more than £375,000.