Friday, 23 September 2016
What worth a councillor?
Ipswich Borough Councillors from all parties work hard for their communities. There are a very few exceptions but in the main we put in hours on casework, reading, attending meetings and training sessions, community events, committee meetings evening and daytime and we are on the end of a phone 24/7.
People have literally laughed when we've told them how much backbenchers receive when they find out it is less than £3800. Most are astonished.
We have refused the recommendations from the independent panel for over a decade and have not had an increase for 10 years.
Had we have taken their recommendations, the remuneration would now be a thousand pounds more a year than we currently receive. This would not have felt right in a time of austerity but I don't know of one single person who has not had a rise in over a decade, if they are still in the same place. Time to stop being embarrassed about this and do what's right, reward where it is due and value what we do.
Furthermore most of us do not claim for travel expenses to and from our meetings, as is our right. My only claims have been for unique travel to the Bournemouth LGA conference a couple of times in 10 years.
Some of us are out of pocket because of the time commitment we have to give (average of 15 hours per week but many do more) and all of us sacrifice family time and leisure on a regular basis. I'd like to think a reasonable person would recognise this and not begrudge us a penny.
I was determined to do something about this and so I contacted the leader of the council who agreed with me that we should have a consensus amongst the leaders of each party, on behalf of our groups.
Even though we can disagree vehemently on how to go about achieving our aims it is not as often as people might suspect. Our influence on national problems is limited but the one thing we must do together is ensure we attract good people to become councillors and that we encourage them from a wide, diverse background. My personal wish is for more young parents. Councillor Jones said at the council meeting that they don't have any special talents. I disagree. All ages have their own special unique talents and wisdom. I think an old wise head with experience of life is equally valuable - just in a different way but I don't want to mix with just wise old heads in my political world.
The point is our low remuneration (one of the lowest for backbenchers but one of the highest for special responsibility) needed addressing and I felt we should value ourselves a bit more than to just take the easy route and ignore the whole thing once again.
Ignoring would've meant in 4 years time at the next review, we would've fallen even more behind and this would be a huge decentivisation, requiring an even bigger increase.
An alternative proposal to the one put forward by the panel, was agreed together which corrected my concerns - increase backbenchers basic allowance and re-calculate the special responsibility allowance to address the inbalance and shrink the gap between the 2.
I was upset with the Ipswich Star yesterday and I said so at the meeting. Cllr Ellesmere and the Mayor both concurred. Their headline did not reflect what was actually going on and all the facts.
I'm looking forward to seeing the follow up and apology in todays paper