By Benjamin Elks, operations manager
With the dust settling on the recent local elections, a raft of new councillors will be taking their seats in council chambers across the country. Many will have dreams of fixing potholes, rejuvenating town centres, and ‘delivering’ for residents - if their pre-election leaflets are anything to go by, at any rate.
But will these latest results really change anything?
Year in year out, the same issues with local government arise. Ever increasing council tax, failing services, increased allowances for councillors, ballooning salaries for staff, taxpayers’ money squandered on pet projects, all while officers continue working from home.
Does the problem perhaps lie with the quality of those running for public office? According to the Local Government Association, the average age of councillors across England was 60 years old, going into the most recent elections. Some believe getting younger people into councils would help, and have suggested that increasing the allowances paid would do so. But as TPA research has shown, the average allowance paid to councillors in 2018-19 was around £7,000. The highest basic allowance in England was £16,926 at Manchester city council, which has now reached £18,841 for 2022-23. And that’s before special responsibility allowances are included, which can add tens of thousands on top (in Manchester, these range from £3,961 for committee deputy chairs to £47,016 for the leader).
Remember, these are not supposed to be wages for a full time job. Given that last year the average salary for twenty-somethings in full time work was £24,291 (according to the ONS), the allowances for a part time role as a councillor don’t look half bad. Clearly pay isn’t the problem in attracting people to local government.
Perhaps the problem isn’t simply a lack of age ranges, but rather the system itself.
Many of the problems we see in Whitehall and central government are mirrored at the local level. Finances in a mess and services too big and cumbersome to change. The 70 year high tax burden and average Band D council tax bills exceeding £2,000. Taxpayers’ cash wasted while frontline services suffer. Mega pay and perks for staff (as our Town Hall Rich List recently exposed) that those in the private sector could only dream of, with those officials basically running the show and councillors simply there to sign the cheques.
Take for example South Cambridgeshire, where the district council has embarked on an experimental four-day working week under the direction of a chief executive who is doing her PhD in the subject! As our campaign has shown, ratepayers are picking up the tab for lower standards and a poor record against key performance indicators. Why would anyone want to be a councillor who is expected to defend these practices, with little real input of their own but forced to loyally nod these things through.
No doubt many of those who serve on councils and work for them desperately want to do the right thing. But too many local authorities have got themselves stuck in a rut, wasting money on autopilot and losing the confidence of their residents. Until taxpayers money is shown the respect it deserves, councillors won’t be either - and it’s hard to see how we’ll ever get anything other than more of the same. If you’ve just been elected, and you want to change things, get in touch.