So it’s a bit of a weird time, but we’re all sitting at home, so what better time to start publishing some local politics articles again? They won’t be about the current situation, as most were already in the can before this kicked off. That being said, if anyone fancies writing something with a local angle on the current situation, hit us up.
Before we all locked ourselves away from the outside world, Medway had been facing some debate about the appropriate level of allowance for councillors. While most council staff received a 1% pay increase, councillor allowances increased by 14%. How much councillors receive is a complicated question, so we decided to ask every Medway councillor the following:
Do you feel the current allowance of £10,421 for councillors represents fair remuneration for the time spent carrying out your duties?
As usual, we told all of them that we would publish their responses unedited. You can find them below in the order they were received.
The Labour Group was clear that large increases in allowances are inappropriate at a time of belt-tightening but respected democracy at full council and the independence of the remuneration body. It is my belief however that the system of allowances has created a form of patronage within the ruling Conservative Group for numerous non-positions outside of the Cabinet. I would therefore like to see a reduction in special responsibility allowances and a more flat rate for councillors as a result but that is a personal opinion. I am also on record on expressing concerns at the cost of the Mayoralty in Medway over my term of office; whilst I respect the position as first citizen it should not be for the Council to be organising Mayoral events beyond its formal responsibilities.
Cllr Tristan Osborne, Labour, Luton and Wayfield
For me becoming a councillor was both a rewarding and privileged form of public service. I feel in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects.
However being an effective councillor requires both commitment and hard work, and 10 months in I still have large ‘Learner Plates ‘on balancing the needs and interests of most importantly my constituents, and my Labour and cooperative party principles being in opposition of the ruling Tory group.
Abuse, long hours and the inability to make everyone happy can be difficult for the remuneration on offer. The Chartist movement back in 1838 were a working class political movement who had a six point people’s charter. Number 4 :
Payment of Members, enabling trades people , working men and women or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation.
I did vote against the recent 14 percent increase in councillor allowances, as did our Labour and cooperative group has other pay rises being offered to council employees was a insulting 1 percent. Some council employees regularly use food banks which is outrageous for the fifth riches nation.
Cllr Joanne Howcroft-Scott, Labour, Luton and Wayfield
It is not remuneration it is an allowance. The difference is very important. The former is payment for a job, the latter is a sum of money to cover expenses so that as far as possible councillors are not out of pocket. It is about making it possible to serve, not make it financially rewarding.
So ‘fair’ is a difficult concept. We have no fixed hours, no job description, and no employment contract in any conventional sense. We are here to represent the electorate, as a public service, because we care about communities. Those in the ruling group inevitably carry more responsibility, and that takes more time.
So ‘enough allowance’ depends on individual circumstances and responsibilities. Clearly we don’t want to attract people who do it for the money, but everyone has to live and many have families, jobs and all the conventional trappings of life. So if we are spending time as a councillor, we are giving up other opportunities and incurring costs.
Personally I do this full time; in fact more than full time. Even ignoring my work as vice-chair of the fire service, or as vice-chair of planning or chair of audit I spend 30-40 hours a week on constituency work. However you measure this, if you call it ‘remuneration’ I get well under the minimum wage. I never claim expenses (apart from 1 train fare once), and in fact give back some of my allowance; for example I purchased the bunting for Rochester High St last Christmas, and the blue boxes for the homeless collections.
In April my allowances go down, because the independent panel concluded we should only get one additional allowance. I am not the only one affected.
Is the allowance system fair? Of course it is not; in fact it is not fair by design. The independent panel worked out what they think is a fair allowance, and then discount it by 20% because councillors are supposed to provide some time free of charge. And I should add that 15% of not very much is still not very much. All before tax.
I know some members need to claim all expenses in order to manage, and that is absolutely right of course. I wish there was more for you. But don’t virtue signal to the electorate about the increase while stuffing the money into your back pocket. You don’t have to do that if you think the allowance is too much. ‘Equality’ is unachievable. Few are able to spend as much time as I choose to do. We are not all doing the same, but that does not matter. We need to attract a wider mix of ages, backgrounds etc.
So it is inappropriate to compare a members’ allowance with employee’s wages; they are both very different. And by all means reduce allowances if you think £10.4k is too much, but don’t complain if only those who have private means and broad shoulders put themselves forward to take on this challenging task in the face of public scrutiny.
Cllr Stuart Tranter, Conservative, Rochester West
I don’t believe any person considering standing for the role of councillor does so for the allowance, however I do believe the current allowance does represent a fair remuneration for the time spent carrying out our duties. It’s a role that is very varied in tasks and hours of work. It is definitely not a 9-5 job! There are no set number of hours each week, you may get some quiet weeks, but many weeks when you have committee meetings alongside your ward work and events, such as PACT meetings, community and religious organisations, youth services and parish council meetings to name but a few, you will spend many hours reading papers and preparing for what can be very long meetings. It is also important to remember that a lot of the work is carried out in the evenings and weekends, as many elected members will have and financially need to have, full or part-time jobs. It is important to try and get a wide representation of the community in elected members, and not just limited to people who can afford to carry out the role. Some members will cut down hours on their “day job” to effectively carry out the role.
Cllr Elizabeth Turpin, Conservative, Strood Rural