Fringe Box



Opinion: Councillors Need Their Allowances

Published on: 29 May, 2013
Updated on: 30 May, 2013
Cllr Caroline Reeves

Cllr Caroline Reeves

by Caroline Reeves
Liberal Democrat Councillor for Friary & St Nicolas

Councillor allowances are a touchy subject. Clearly there are plenty of people who think we should not receive anything to recompense us for the time we spend carrying out our duties.

Recently, I read a comment that the mayor behind the construction of the Lido, William Harvey, had given his time without any financial recompense. No doubt he did, presumably he could afford to. But, disappointingly, the comment was written in such a way as to suggest that councillors are currently over-paid for what we do.

Opinion Logo 2The author of the piece is far from alone in his opinion but I find this attitude exasperating. In order to fulfil my role as a town-centre ward councillor for the borough I have had to reduce my paid work to part-time hours. On average I spend two whole days, plus usually four evenings a week and frequently time over the weekend on council business. For this I receive less than £5000 per annum. No wonder we have no bankers amongst our ranks.

Email has meant that we are much more accessible to residents, who quite rightly expect a quick reply to their correspondence. Unlike MPs, our home addresses are widely available so that people can, and do, contact us at any time of the day or even night.

We are lucky to have a number of younger councillors at the moment and this is vital if we are to represent the wider demographic of our residents. If we follow the wishes of those who want all councillors to volunteer, gratis, we will end up with a council that consists of older people (like me) who have the financial stability to be able to donate their time without any return (unlike me).

For councillors with young children the expenses paid for childcare are not generous, but they can help younger councillors to attend evening meetings. In fact, very few councillors claim for childcare expenses. Then there are councillors who live further afield in the borough: the expenses for mileage make a small contribution towards their transport cost, but very few councillors claim, at all, for travel or subsistence.

There is currently much work to be done at Guildford Borough Council and residents are not slow in coming forward to tell us what they want and what they think we should be doing. The Executive (the committee that is the equivalent of the cabinet at local level) are entitled to receive a higher allowance than us backbenchers, but I’m sure it in no way recompenses them for the amount of time they spend on council matters. Some authorities pay their councillors a living wage, but I doubt we are held any less to account than they are.

See also: Open Debate: Should We Pay Our Councillors?

Share This Post

Responses to Opinion: Councillors Need Their Allowances

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    May 29, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Caroline is quite right Alderman Harvey, a respected trader, was quite wealthy as were many of his fellow councillors.

    However not all were so well endowed but gave their time quite voluntary as many people do so to-day.

    Without such people’s voluntary commitment much of our charity work would founder.

  2. David Rose Reply

    May 29, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Each generation of those who serve as councillors sees different financial circumstances.

    When Henry Peak became Mayor of Guildford at the turn of the 20th century, he sold his second home on the Isle of Wight to pay for all the entertaining and things he did during and as part of his term of office.

    Of course, back then I guess all those who served on the council had money. You couldn’t get on it otherwise.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    May 29, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    My grandfather, the last independent councillor for Westborough, was not that well off.

    But then they did not look for financial reward.

    I seem to remember the saying: “Service above self”.

    • Zoe Franklin Reply

      May 30, 2013 at 8:58 am

      I am grateful to Caroline for voicing her opinion on this matter which always causes great debate.

      As a councillor I do it first as a service to my community. However, my allowance enables me to do so at a practical level as it pays for the childcare I need to cover meetings, events, etc that are not covered by the expenses policy.

      I have learnt that I personally am unable to work, look after my young children and serve my residents as effectively as I want to. So currently, I choose to only serve as a councillor and stay home with my family. The allowance helps, financially, to do that.

      Society has changed significantly and if we want to ensure a wide cross section of age, experience and social status in our councillors who are truly representative of our community we must reimburse them appropriately both in terms of allowance and expenses.

      Zoe Franklin is a Liberal Democrat Borough Councillor for Stoke Ward

  4. Rachel Jones Reply

    May 30, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Good points well made. I know that our local councillors put in a lot of time over and above what their allowances cover. I’m also aware of times that councillors have used part of their personal allowance to pay for something the council itself wouldn’t otherwise fund.

    It is cheap journalism and easy to pass comment implying that councillors get more than they deserve, without stopping to consider what they actually do. I’d like to see what people would think if they actually did the job for a while.

    • Martin Giles Reply

      May 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      Readers might be interested to see an article ‘Open Debate: Should We Pay Our Councillors?’ representing both points of view on this subject, published on The Guildford Dragon NEWS last year. I believe it is still relevant.

      Martin Giles
      Publisher/Editor of The Guildford Dragon NEWS

  5. Caroline Reeves Reply

    May 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Perhaps I should add that the hours quoted in my original piece do not include all the voluntary work for charities that I and many other councillors do, as do many others who are not councillors.

    Guildford as a community would indeed be lost without volunteers.

  6. Bernard Parke Reply

    May 31, 2013 at 8:31 am

    It seems that I have “struck a raw nerve”.

    Perhaps we should now leave it to the people of Guildford to say whether this increase in councillors’ allowances has resulted in them receiving a better service?

  7. Kelly-Marie Blundell Reply

    May 31, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Caroline writes eloquently about the pressures of working as a councillor, and the necessity of recognition and renumeration this entails in order to facilitate democracy in Guildford.

    There are stark differences in the role of a Councillor and a volunteer in another capacity. Some people volunteer as trustees, for example, which requires regular meetings and scrutiny of business processes, but does not require the hands-on role of working for the charity nor resolving beneficiaries’ problems.

    The role of volunteering at an event may require a day’s presence, or a befriender meeting with the vulnerable on a weekly basis to maintain a relationship, but not the scrutiny or responsibilities of business and financial transactions.

    Then there are the volunteers who mow their neighbours’ lawns, or put their bins out, or drive someone to the shops. These are generally small areas of effort and narrow in application.

    A councillor can end up doing all of the tasks of common volunteer roles, and more, with the vast nature of the role. From inspecting planned housing developments to attending presentations, the role has become more and more demanding over time.

    But Councillors dedicate themselves to the role to ensure their constituents can enjoy the services of the Council, benefit from the accessibility of a localised complaint service and ensure that proper scrutiny is applied to the public authority.

  8. Angela Gunning Reply

    May 31, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    I would like to support the remarks by Caroline Reeves, and my fellow councillor [for Stoke] Zoe Franklin. I too probably spend at least two whole days a week, sometimes more, on council-related business.

    It’s not just committees. There’s working parties on key issues, local ward business, site visits for planning applications, and many other activities that councillors are involved with.

    The purpose of giving Councillors allowances was in the interests of equality, so that everyone could aspire to be a councillor, not just the wealthy.

    Angela Gunning is a Labour Councillor for Stoke Ward

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *