87% of Warwickshire councillors receive special allowances

January 12, 2012 10:55 AM

Back in 2008 when the MPs' expenses scandal was unravelling, we discovered that many MPs regarded their expenses as an additional source of income. They felt they were underpaid and, as a result, abused the lax regime in charge of administering their expenses to rake in extra cash. This was clearly illegal, as former members have discovered to their cost. Parliament, and politicians in general, still have a long way to go to recover the public's trust in them.

This morning I received a press release from a Conservative borough councillor in Rugby attacking Conservative-run Warwickshire County Council. Cllr Howard Roberts states that a massive 87% of county councillors receive a special responsibility allowance (SRA). These allowances are  supposed to be paid to members who have to give up a significant amount of extra time to perform their duties, such as cabinet members and chairs of important committees such as planning. The SRA is paid on top of the basic allowance all councillors receive, which in Warwickshire is currently £8975.04 per annum.

According to Cllr Roberts, 17 county councillors receive an SRA for being a spokesman for their party. The Conservatives receive £14,000 to award to members of their group, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats receiving £11,000 each. A full list of recipients from last year can be found here.

Although Warwickshire County Council is not doing anything illegal in awarding the allowances, it is wrong for a numbers of reasons. When 87% of councillors receive an SRA, it inevitably devalues the system. To say almost 9 out of 10 councillors give up a significant amount of extra time to perform their duties is ridiculous. This is not what the SRA system was set up to do.

The system is also ripe for abuse. With so much patronage in the hands of the leaders of the three political groups, there is the possibility of some councillors being awarded extra cash for merely towing the party line; a quid pro quo. This money could be used to try and silence councillors who rock the boat.

It also may give the impression councillors have their snouts in the trough. Just as some MPs were seen to be abusing the expenses system for personal gain, the public impression is that these councillors are only interested in serving for what they can get out of it. It undermines the trust between voter and elected representative, and this is bad for democracy.

I am not suggesting councillors should not be recompensed for some of their time, although performing you duties out of civic pride is something we expect for all councillors. Everyone who is involved in political campaigning knows giving up some of your free time for the cause(s) you are fighting for is expected, and for the vast majority this time is given up willingly and freely.

Warwickshire County Council needs to review the way councillors are paid. SRAs should only be paid to those in positions of true responsibility, and not to those who occasionally speak for their parties.Back in 2008 when the MPs' expenses scandal was unravelling, we discovered that many MPs regarded their expenses as an additional source of income. They felt they were underpaid and, as a result, abused the lax regime in charge of administering their expenses to rake in extra cash. This was clearly illegal, as former members have discovered to their cost. Parliament, and politicians in general, still have a long way to go to recover the public's trust in them.

This morning I received a press release from a Conservative borough councillor in Rugby attacking Conservative-run Warwickshire County Council. Cllr Howard Roberts states that a massive 87% of county councillors receive a special responsibility allowance (SRA). These allowances are  supposed to be paid to members who have to give up a significant amount of extra time to perform their duties, such as cabinet members and chairs of important committees such as planning. The SRA is paid on top of the basic allowance all councillors receive, which in Warwickshire is currently £8975.04 per annum.

According to Cllr Roberts, 17 county councillors receive an SRA for being a spokesman for their party. The Conservatives receive £14,000 to award to members of their group, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats receiving £11,000 each. A full list of recipients from last year can be found here.

Although Warwickshire County Council is not doing anything illegal in awarding the allowances, it is wrong for a numbers of reasons. When 87% of councillors receive an SRA, it inevitably devalues the system. To say almost 9 out of 10 councillors give up a significant amount of extra time to perform their duties is ridiculous. This is not what the SRA system was set up to do.

The system is also ripe for abuse. With so much patronage in the hands of the leaders of the three political groups, there is the possibility of some councillors being awarded extra cash for merely towing the party line; a quid pro quo. This money could be used to try and silence councillors who rock the boat.

It also may give the impression councillors have their snouts in the trough. Just as some MPs were seen to be abusing the expenses system for personal gain, the public impression is that these councillors are only interested in serving for what they can get out of it. It undermines the trust between voter and elected representative, and this is bad for democracy.

I am not suggesting councillors should not be recompensed for some of their time, although performing you duties out of civic pride is something we expect for all councillors. Everyone who is involved in political campaigning knows giving up some of your free time for the cause(s) you are fighting for is expected, and for the vast majority this time is given up willingly and freely.

Warwickshire County Council needs to review the way councillors are paid. SRAs should only be paid to those in positions of true responsibility, and not to those who occasionally speak for their parties.

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