Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Should our County Councillors be paid more?

That is the question being put to the County Councillors on Tuesday 18/10/11. My simple answer is YES! The public undervalues the role of councillor and their ability to run this organisation and, if in opposition, to hold the ruling party to account.

What should be the rate of pay?

The report from the Independent Remuneration Panel says it should be £9500 a year or £13571 if the 30% cut is taken into account. The 30% comes from a weird idea that somehow part of the job is Public Service and therefore salaries are discounted by 30% to take this into account. Whilst I understand why this Public Service discount element is included, because Parliament says it should be, I disagree with this assumption. A job is a job and discounting is simply wrong. Otherwise shouldn't the public demand that all Council jobs have a element of Public Service and therefore all public jobs, from cleaner to Chief Executive, should therefore contain this public service element.

The £13571 is for 2.5 days a week which equates to £27142 a year. This is therefore the basic amount for a County Councillor. By my rule of thumb this is probably the right amount for a County Councillor.

What adds to the job is Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA). These are paid to many of the County Councillors. From the Council Leader down to Opposition Spokesman. Panel Chairmen also get SRAs. CCC doesn't have a 1 SRA rule. In theory Councillors could take on several SRA and boost their pay. I believe the 1 SRA rule must be introduced.

The major problem is comparing the job of being a County Councillor to that of any other job. Whilst the comparable jobs seem to be a Non-executive NHS Trust directorship and those member of a Police Authority neither of these are elected. Comparisons made against other County Councils also adds to problems because these add to wage inflation. because if A and B get paid higher then C has to have a pay rise. Many of the problems in Local Government Finance happen because the lower scales rise and this pushes the salaries above upwards. I could go more into Senior Officer pay but I'll do that at a later date.

The basic problem is these comparisons are really a paper chase with numbers that, in reality, aren't comparable. What the Independent Remuneration Panel is actually doing is having a stab in the dark.

There seems to be a recognition that Councillors need to attend meetings. The idea that Councillors should lose money for not attending meetings is a good idea. The bar seems to be set too low. The idea is if a Councillor attends less than 75% of all meetings then they lose 10% of their allowance for each 10% they don't attend. Under these rules if they attend 66% of meetings they don't lose any money. If they attend 65% of meetings they lose 10% of their basic allowance.

The bar should be set higher. As Councillors are our employee I expect them to be there 100% of the time. At work I'm expected to turn up every day. I have holidays. Take this off and I'm expected to attend work for 90% of the time. Therefore the bar should be set at 100% attendance with any Councillor attending less than 90% being docked 10% of basic allowances. Each subsequent 10% meaning a loss of another 10% of basic allowances. Under this scheme a Councillor attending 90% of the time will get full basic allowance.

I feel our County Councillors should be paid more. What meetings they attend and the reasons why they don't attend should be made available to their employers. Namely the people who elect them, the electors, and this information should be public. And YES their pay should cut if they don't attend than 90% or more of the the meetings they should attend. 

The problem is there is no good time to increase their pay. Now is probably the worst. Either we pay and value our politicians properly or we expect this job to be done for free. For what is seen by the public as an easy job for easy money doesn't entice many of the electorate to apply for these jobs. 

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