Some months ago it was announced that two vacancies had arisen on the East Hertfordshire council Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP). Although only a consultative body, the role of an IRP is to recommend all the pay and perks councillors can get and, therefore, have considerable power and influence. As citizens’ panels they give the taxpayer the chance to hold their councillors to account, putting a value to their quality of service. That is precisely why we advertised the position here and encouraged our supporters in the area to apply for the vacant positions. Is it any wonder why when we saw stories like the one below?
We heard nothing while the sifting of applications took place. Then, quite suddenly, after the interview stage one of our supporters sent us a copy of the questionnaire they had been sent. In an almost unbelievable homage to McCarthyism, the questions from the council read:
“Are you or have you ever been a member of the TaxPayers’ Alliance?”
“Have you ever viewed information on the TaxPayers’ Alliance website?”
Thinking this was too good to be true, we got the story in the local paper here. The council arrogantly stated that we had no right to publicise a public position! Their suggestion that the selection process was “compromised” because we publicised the advert for the vacancies shows how closed and remote the council wanted the selection process to be.
Most of the panel was therefore selected behind closed doors as the council re-selected Barry Norman (The TV film critic and supporter of the Liberal Democrats) and Jon Wilson. Having a party-political member on the IRP clearly compromises its integrity as an independent panel.
Last night at the East Hertfordshire full council meeting, the council were given the opportunity to choose from the 8 remaining candidates. Independent councillor Nigel Clark moved that all 8 be appointed, moving a quorum of 5 members. That was rejected by the council, who instead opted for only one from 8 to be appointed to the panel. By a secret ballot, Mrs J Anderson was appointed.
Amazingly, she, too, was listed as a member of the Liberal Democrat Party (page 64), meaning that a majority on the panel are supportive of one particular political party, somewhat making a mockery of the ‘Independent’ nature of the Independent Remuneration Panel. This wasn’t a secret; her membership of a political party was printed on the briefing material given to councillors last night.
In addition to this, the descriptions given for different panel applicants were hardly comparable in nature. Whereas Mrs Anderson was noted to understand “the role of Members, election processes and the operation of Council committees”, information about whether other candidates had similar qualifications – or not – was left out of their description.
The example from East Hertfordshire, however, shows the system governing the selection and composition of Independent Remuneration Panels needs to be amended. We have recommended that IRPs need to have fixed terms and term limits so they don’t become the fiefdom of local worthies and allow new candidates to step forward. They need to be comprised of local, independent taxpayers through a free, fair and open selection process (which we have, of sorts, achieved by publicising and shaming East Hertfordshire council’s McCarthyite tactics). They should also be binding, meaning that politicians should be judged by their constituents as to the service they provide. If local residents are therefore angry at a pay hike, or pay cut, given by the IRP, then that should act as an incentive for them to apply when the term limits expire.
We owe a big thank you to our supporters in East Hertfordshire for their persistence in what has been a long, drawn out process. We will still campaign for open, transparent IRPs and will advertise and have our supporters apply in response to any further vacancies that arise in the future. The fight continues.