Monday, 27 July 2015

Council Members allowances

I see that at the last council meeting the Administration rejected the recommendations of the Independent Panel tasked with proposing any changes to member allowances on the basis that it would be inappropriate to approve increases at a time when council staff are receiving such small wage increases.

I am in agreement with my former colleague James Courtenay on the issue. If you set up an Independent Panel to review and recommend, thereby recognising that it is difficult for members to consider the matter impartially, it is quite ridiculous to then reject what the panel suggests.

As in previous years there is the distinct whiff of party political point scoring by Cllr Woodley and some of his colleagues. In the eyes of the general public it will never be the right time to increase allowances. This is in part because few realise quite how time consuming and onerous council duties can be, particularly to those at cabinet level. To play the populist card by rejecting any increase simply makes the allowances ever more unrealistic – a similar problem that laid the foundations for the Westminster debacle on mp’s expenses.

If the advice of the Independent Panel is to be rejected why waste time and money getting it to investigate and report? In reality a panel of this kind is the right way to reach an unbiased and informed decision as they have the opportunity to investigate in details the workloads involved without the self interest of being a recipient.

For those on the council who believe that an increase is either unfair or unjustified then they have a simple remedy – don’t accept the increase. This was a point that in previous years I made to Independent Party leader Martin Terry who argued against the recommendations of the panel but didn’t seem to want to reject any increase if others were accepting it!

The reality is that in making their recommendations the panel factor in the community contribution made by all councillors which should not be financially remunerated and the chronic lack of admin support which SBC has historically given to members compared with many other authorities.

When I was a councillor in the early 90’s, at a time when as a lower tier authority the demands on members was far less, I chose not to accept any allowances, an approach shared by my then colleagues Norman Clarke and Charles Latham. We didn’t publicise it or do it to try to make a political point and nor did we criticise those who felt it appropriate to take the allowance.

Now the demands on time, particularly during the working week, are far greater. If we are to ensure that the opportunity to stand for the council is open to all the payment of reasonable allowances is essential.


  1. Do I understand then, Nigel, that you think Cllrs Lamb and Holland were wrong to call for and force the retention of printers, ink,paper, etc, paid for by the Council?

  2. Matthew

    I have to concede that I have not read the full recommendations from the Panel and am not sure on what basis they decided that printers etc should not be retained.

    Having said that I remain of the view that the recommendations should have been rubber stamped in their entirety. Obviously if other increases were being blocked by the Administration then it was reasonable for John and Ann to oppose this item.

    I would reiterate that the levels of support received by Southend members is poor and there is a clear argument that members should be provided with printers etc. There will be occaisions where hard copy correspondance needs to be produced, or hard copies of last minute reports printed and particularly for those living further away from the Civic Centre it is unreasonable to suggest they should spend time and money travelling to and from the Civic solely to print documents. It is a false economy.

    Having said that I do not know what reasons the panel relied on.

  3. I do not understand the fascination of the Left. It is like we are all on some gravy train. When I go to Scotland for work, my work buys me the train ticket/pays my mileage. When I stay overnight they put me up in a reasonable hotel. When I buy something for the office I claim it back. Therefore when I do something for the Council why should it not pay for it/ I reclaim it? Otherwise you end up with only those who can afford to stand for office doing so.

    It would have been a lot fairer/clearer to suggest that ink cartridges and printers remain included, but the basic allowance was cut by the requisite amount.

    However, these points are not enough – nowhere near- in my opinion, to do anything but accept the Panel’s recommendations.

    Steve Aylen came up with a rare good point - along the lines of - "The Panel looked basic allowances, SRAs, all big financial numbers...oh and paper. I wonder why..."

    He then agreed with me that perhaps Cllr Woodley had suggested that this be included. Why else would the Panel have commented on something that is rather small for a Panel to be convinced to review.

    A cynic would suggest that this is because Cllr Woodley is trying to force through a "paperless" Council. I wish him luck with that. One of the first phrases I remember as a child of the 1980s was "we're going paperless". I'm still waiting.....