Does Bristol City Council (BCC) really need 70 elected councillors to serve its citizens? As a resident of the city and a one-time councillor, I can say this is one way of cutting the cost of local government—reduce the number of councillors—and the TPA in Bristol is campaigning to get the numbers cut. On Saturday, we brought the War on Waste message to Bristol City Hall and gathered on College Green with our banners.
From BCC’s recent accounts, the councillors can be seen to cost the local taxpayer over £1m. A Bristol councillor’s Basic Allowance is £11,416, so times that by 70 and you get £799,120, but that’s just the start of it. BCC councillors can claim Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA). These vary and are paid on top of their allowances for attending committees. This can go up to as much as £30, 411 per councillor.
In 2012-13, Bristol SRAs amounted to £308,496, so that gives a total basic cost of £1,107,616. That figure could then be more than trebled if we take into account the cost of support staff, office accommodation, expenses and the like. Let’s say approximately £3.5m, that's £50,000 per councillor.
Now if Bristol’s citizenry were actively supportive of these councillors and rushed out enthusiastically to support them, then it might be a cost well worth paying. But do they? In 2013, the council election turnout averaged some 27 per cent across the 23 participating wards. Even in the General Election year, 2010, none of the 24 participating wards experienced a turnout greater than 50 per cent for the city elections.
So, at the best of times, a comfortable majority of potential voters in Bristol, thumbed their noses at the opportunity to elect their representatives
Why the massive turnoff rather than turnout? Because councillors are virtually redundant as far as policy making is concerned. Even more so with the scope and influence of the recently elected Mayor, George Ferguson. If you doubt me, just ask the councillors themselves. Those to whom I've spoken admit to it largely being a non-job. A few serve on the Mayor's cabinet and carry specific responsibilities for functional areas of city administration. So, let's say six appointed or elected councillors could do the work of supporting the Mayor.
Even this might be overkill. There are very well paid and highly qualified professional staff who could discharge these duties much more effectively and efficiently than the party nominees or independent candidates who offer themselves under the current arrangements. Most large enterprises function very well without the benefit and involvement of political parties.
Such changes to our democratic processes may need the authority of legislation, but surely to £1 million — and possibly up to £3 million — out of the operating costs of any organisation is worth a little effort, particularly so when it will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the enterprise. Let Bristol show the way.