What price would you pay for your local councillors elected to your local district, borough, metropolitan or county councils? A few points that we’ve noticed here bring us to ask this question.
The first issue must be the shocking increases in councillors’ pay. Windsor and Maidenhead Council this year increased their pay by 91%. We fought a long running battle with Bournemouth Council against their plans to increase Cabinet pay by 32% as well as offering a sweetener of a 17% pay increase for backbench councillors. Other councils have voted themselves shocking increases the rest of us just don’t see.
Second, the debacle over MPs expenses has brought mass public disdain over ‘snouts in the trough’ behaviour from elected politicians. As public servants, employed by British taxpayers, do they get the right to line their pockets with our money? It’s a far step removed from the ideas of voluntary, public service. Councillors used to be paid an attendance allowance granted when they turned up for meetings. Investigations into MEPs expenses, however, has shown that routinely politicians check in and check out, having declared their attendance and qualified for their attendance allowance – a shocking technicality robbing the taxpayer through abuse of the system. Already councillors can claim breakfast, lunch and dinner allowances. They get free blackberry’s, laptops and other luxuries on the taxpayer’s dime. Yet with this subsidised communications equipment, when was the last time you heard from your councillor?
Finally, as I noted last week, councillors have very little power to overturn or even check decisions made by officers. That officers at Thurrock Council could arbitrarily employ more staff for the public payroll, despite the objections of the elected councillors, shows that the current diffusion of authority in Town Halls leaves councillors with little power to shape their boroughs.
Obviously there are problems, the results of which cost the taxpayer dear. Councillors have little power to stand up against Development Corporations, QUANGOs, Regional Assemblies and even central Government despite being the locally elected voice. Unable to block unpopular decisions and powerless against central Government, are we just paying a high price – thousands of pounds per councillor – for an expensive caseworker, who usually can’t do much about real matters that affect taxpayers?
A democratic deficit is oft mentioned when discussing the value we get from MEPs and MPs. It’s time we started looking at the scandal going on right under our noses: an elected position, powerless, yet continuously voting for higher and higher salaries costing the council tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.