Many parts of the UK are covered by unitary authorities, who have responsibilities for all council services. In other areas, there are two-tiers of local government, where districts and boroughs provide services such as bin collections, and county councils are responsible for things like highways and education. Derbyshire is a county where the latter applies.
District councils cover smaller geographic areas, and provide fewer services than unitary authorities. Councillors are not expected to devote as much time to their council work, and are therefore paid a smaller allowance. In North East Derbyshire Council, councillors are paid a basic allowance of £5,010 per annum, however in neighbouring Bolsover councillors are paid £10,047 - more than twice as much.
Both sets of councillors have the same responsibilities, and as a result, the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) in Bolsover has recommended the basic allowance should be cut to £5,354. They haven't plucked this figure out of the air either. This figure is the average paid to councillors across similar authorities.
Unfortunately, the IRP can only make recommendations. It cannot enforce its will on councillors, who ultimately decide their own pay and perks. It will therefore not surprise you to learn that the turkeys have chosen not to vote for Christmas. Out of thirty-seven elected councillors, only one was in favour or reducing their pay. Instead, they have voted for a four-year pay freeze. The deputy leader of the council described the panel's recommendations as flawed. He said they have no consideration to the amount of time and effort that is put in.
Although I accept there are fewer councillors than in the example I have given in North East Derbyshire, as the council tax is still roughly the same, they are not scrutinising more ways to get better value for money for council taxpayers and their work certainly doesn't warrant twice the pay. I have written before about reducing the number of councillors in general, and how much this would save. Scrutiny is important, but take a look at many councils' websites and you will see scrutiny committees packed to the rafters. It doesn't take that many councillors to scrutinise decisions. Paul Francis, the political editor of Kent Online said this on his blog about Kent County Council:
So do we get value for money and would KCC be any different if it was represented by say, 60 county councillors, rather than 84? Democracy needs strong political advocates and it is vital that there are strong checks and balances in the system but I do sometimes sense that County Hall would get along just as well with fewer politicians.
Councillors in Bolsover are paid more than their counterparts in any other comparable council in the country. They had an option to reduce their allowances, even if it was not by the amount the panel recommended. They should be leading by example. Instead they are using their position to maintain the status-quo. If I had served on the IRP in Bolsover, I would feel my time had been completely wasted, and if I was a resident and council taxpayer, I would be asking councillors why they deserve to be paid twice the average. If you feel like me, you can write to the deputy leader, Alan Tomlinson. He seems like the man who does all the talking, and I'm sure he will value your views!