News and Comment

If councillors were better paid would local government be better off? Part 2/2

Thursday 4 April 2013

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It’s an old question given new impetus of late: should the allowance of councillors be increased?

The office of ‘councillor’ is both elected and voluntary. Councillors’ time is compensated through an allowance the average cost of which is estimated by the Local Government Association to be around £7,000 per year.

But the recent Councillors on the Frontline report, produced by the Communities and Local Government cross-part committee, stated that the current level of allowances paid to Councillors is too low and acts as a deterrent to many people who might otherwise stand for election.

Moves to increase the allowance however run contrary to the thinking of many in Government, including the DCLG itself, which has unequivocally declared that: “Councillors should be volunteers, not the bankrolled staff of the municipal state”.

It’s an issue which throws up strong, passionate arguments on each side. Those in favour of increasing the allowance say that better remuneration would help to make the role more accessible to a wider pool of talent. Whilst those opposed feel that with local government needing to adapt to budget cuts of close to a third, an increasing the amount of money due to elected members cannot be justified.

It’s an issue which throws up strong, passionate arguments on each side. Last week we heard from Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee; in this guest blog, the second of a two-part series of this issue, Councillor John Fox of Peterborough City Council puts forward his view.

“More and more now I see local government turning towards the voluntary sector to help out in their communities to maintain or provide services that are needed. The government pushes the Big Society and the Localism Act to encourage the communities to build up a community spirit for the good of us all. Yet we expect them to do this free from any financial gain. Such people as Scout or Guides leaders, school governors, parish councillors, sports team organisers and many others within our communities who have been doing this for years. Why? Because they care for the communities in which they live.

Now we face the dilemma of local government councillors believing they should be paid vast amounts of money to do what we expect others to do for nothing.

Do we deserve to be paid more for the work we do? I believe we should not be out of pocket but we should only be paid for what we do. I know a lot of councillors we earn more than some people earn for a full time job, yet some do not even turn up for their bread and butter meetings, how can this be justified?

High payments are made to some councillors in the form of Special Responsibility Allowances, in some cases for chairing Scrutiny Committees. Yet the only ones in Peterborough who qualify for these positions are members of the ruling political party, rather than the best person for the job.

I often hear the argument that if we pay councillors more we would encourage a better class of councillor. In my honest opinion this will never ever happen unless you take politics completely out of local government. What evidence do I have for making this statement? Simple, who selects the candidate to stand as a political candidate? A very small group of politically motivated individuals who are part of the selection process and we have to rely on their integrity to pick the best person. Does this happen? I know of cases where it most definitely did not.

Would paying more pay have the reverse effect of attracting those who are only interested in the money and not the commitment? I personally see this happening now, so how will more money improve this.

What I would personally like to see is every person standing on their own merits as independent councillor, working with the community for the community. We expect our communities to do this yet when it comes to leading by example, we seem fall at the post.”