Fringe Box



Open Debate: Should We Pay Our Councillors?

Published on: 15 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 15 Sep, 2012

Part of the reason that The Guildford Dragon NEWS was created was to encourage local debate. Here are presented two points of view on the subject of paying councillors.

Even paying MPs is a relatively recent thing. It commenced in 1911 with an annual payment of £400. Local councillors were not paid anything, other than expenses, until the 1990s.

MPs were reviled recently for abusing their expenses system but does that mean we should not pay politicians at all?

In Scotland, it is notable that councillors receive at least £16,000 a year for performing their duties, excluding expenses and other perks. Croydon councillors are paid a basic £11,000. But what is right for Guildford?

The Case For – by Martin Giles

Why should we pay local councillors anything? They volunteer to be elected, don’t they? A few attendances at the meetings at Millmead or Kingston shouldn’t take long, should they? Anyway, they don’t even have to attend the meetings. In fact, what do they do for their allowances exactly?

These are frequently asked questions by some who seem to begrudge any payment to the public sector. But they deserve answers.

It is, of course, true that all politicians volunteer. One might wonder why anyone would. All politicians seemed to be reviled at some stage or by some sections. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you simply can’t keep everyone happy, all of the time.

But isn’t it a good thing that people do volunteer to take on these often thankless tasks? Mostly their motivation seems honourable and altruistic. And how else would we govern ourselves locally without councillors?

If we did not pay them anything, as used to be the case, only those who could afford to carry out the task without any payment could volunteer. Effectively, we would be excluding most people who could not give the time without some payment or reward. Instead we should make it inclusive by making it possible for as many as we can to feel they could afford to stand, if they want to. If the wealthy were troubled they could always privately decline their allowance or donate it to a charity.

I have heard it argued that enabling all, financially, to become councillors would not be a good thing or necessary. The argument goes that those who can afford to do these things are, by and large, those with the necessary ability. Don’t believe it. Anyone who has worked with or observed closely the, so called, great and good will find they all have feet of clay and limitations on their ability, just like the rest of us. There is no monopoly of wisdom, or goodness, in any sector or group.

However, the current system is far from perfect. The allowance paid is, in any case, far too small to allow most of us to take on, what can be, a very demanding task. This is especially so these days, where the complexity of bureaucracy, legislation, and regulations is constantly increasing, not to mention the demands of instant electronic communications.

But one current iniquity, that should be addressed, is the variation in the amount of time different councillors give to the task.  Some councillors hardly ever seem to appear at council meetings. Others seem to be at most of them. For a considerable number it appears to be a full time job and one can only wonder how they fit in the rest of their lives. There should be a link between hours and pay and we should properly reward those who give so much time and effort.

Perhaps it would be better to have fewer, better paid councillors?  Especially when we have an Executive system where nearly all the important decisions are taken within a small group. Perhaps also we should question why all our councillors are members of the main political parties. But don’t start me on that one.

The Case Against – by Hon Alderman Bernard Parke

Many people give their own time to contribute to the welfare of others without any thought of financial reward. This used to be so with members of the public putting themselves up for election as candidates to serve their communities, contributing their own particular talents.

Indeed for generations this was the case. Many, in fact, dedicated their entire leisure time in this very pursuit.

They were however able to claim basic “out of pocket expenses” if they wished to do so, but it is fair to say many did not even do that. Now things have changed by paying allowances which in the case of our Borough is now approaching a total of nearly £300,000 per annum. Considerably more if the costs of the County Council allowances are included.

It was hoped by paying allowances the quality of candidates would be improved, but I doubt this is the case.

Why? Because they are still recruited from the same source. The local national party associations. The pressure put on these associations is both costly and difficult for they have to find over forty or so hopefuls.

The agents have to accept what they can find amongst their deliverers and canvassers. I know from experience, as a one time constituency chairman, that this very act haemorrhaged valuable party funds which would have been better spent on the main task of winning party seats.

Once elected, many party financed councillors have been known to be at odds with Westminster and do their ‘own thing’.

Perhaps now, as with the so-called “Executive system”, where only some eight councillors are selected to make policies, the remaining forty seem to be surplus to requirements and simply a costly expense.

The answer must be for the party machines to withdraw from dubious local affairs and concentrate on the welfare of their parliamentary candidates, and leave local affairs to people who have to live with the results.

The question should now be asked have we improved local government by paying these stipends.

The answer is a resounding no.

What do you think? It is your taxes that are used for these payments. Are they deserved or not? Have your say by using the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.

Is there an issue which you would like to publicly debate in this way? Perhaps you have the same old argument with a friend, associate and colleague that you could get it off your chests and perhaps find out what others think? Why not write in?

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