What’s a Wirral Council councillor worth?
Recently there has been a lot of anger expressed by the public over a proposed 11% pay rise for MPs from 2015. Wirral Council’s councillors (unlike MPs who after the expenses scandal agreed that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority would set their pay) still decide on what they’re paid. In fact the legislation states that when voting on this matter they don’t even have to declare an interest!
In a parallel with MPs, in order to keep the base amount that councillors get low over the years and presumably avoid a similar kind of bad publicity that the proposed pay rise for MPs is receiving, the base amount for being a Wirral Council councillor is currently set at £8,712 (equivalent to ~168/week). There are (in many cases similar to the MP’s expenses system) a bewildering amount of ways that Wirral Council’s councillors can increase this.
Each year what Wirral’s council’s councillors are paid is published on Wirral Council’s website. These figures I link to are from 2012/13. As Wirral Council’s financial year finishes about a month before we usually have elections (apart from next year when local elections will be combined with the European elections) there are some small amounts for people that were councillors for only a few weeks in that year or were elected part way through the financial year. If you discount these part year amounts, the amounts range from the basic £8,712 to £30,437.60 for the Leader of the Council Cllr Phil Davies.
In addition to the amounts in that list councillors receive extra if they represent Wirral Council on certain outside bodies such as Merseytravel or Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. Both of these bodies decide themselves on their own allowances scheme.
So what is proposed at Wirral Council? Well periodically the allowances scheme is reviewed by the “Independent Panel on Members Allowances”. The Independent Panel doesn’t meet in public and there isn’t any public consultation on its findings.
Reading its report its conclusions are based on the input of councillors (a census of councillors on pay, other authority’s independent reports and the direct input of Cllr Phil Davies, Cllr Jeff Green and Cllr Phil Gilchrist) as well as senior officers at Wirral Council.
In distinct echoes of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority proposed 11% pay rise for MPs, Wirral Council’s independent panel recommends “When the financial climate allows, due consideration should be given to reinstating the 5% austerity cut in the basic allowance.”
However the rest of the recommendations remain relatively uncontroversial and are unchanged to what they were previously. The allowances for the Mayor and Deputy Mayor (of £10,700 and £1,500) remain the same. Both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor attend a lot of different events during their year in Wirral. The Mayor also has to chair Wirral Council Council meetings. Keeping order and making sure Council meetings don’t degenerate into people speaking being drowned out by heckling, requires courage, tact and a sense of humour as well as the respect from other councillors.
About a year ago, much of the work of the Employment and Appointments Committee (such as appeals against dismissal, grievance hearings etc) was delegated to the Chief Executive Graham Burgess so the special responsibility allowance of its Chair of £2,751 is proposed to be scrapped.
The Chairs of the new Constituency Committees won’t receive any extra for their role, but this will be reviewed once they are “up and running” (suggested for October 2014). Pensions for Wirral’s councillors have been ruled out until the end of the current Government/Treasury consultation exercise.
The panel estimated that the average councillor spends twenty-three hours a week on the role and that any future increases in allowances should be linked to staff pay.
Finally I’ll make a number of what could be termed party political points (*breaking a general rule of mine on this blog and no I’m not a member of a political party despite rumours to the contrary) about councillors allowances and elections.
The arrangements that the political parties on Wirral have with their councillors (as far as I know and please leave a comment to the contrary if I am wrong) is that their councillors contribute a share of their allowances to their political party. This money is then used at election time (in conjunction with sources of other money) by that political party to help their candidates win votes from the public and get re-elected.
This is why there is only one independent councillor on Wirral Council (who was elected as a Lib Dem). Any independent candidate would have to either be independently wealthy in order to fund their own campaign or have a wealthy patron in order to stand a chance financially against the taxpayer funded political parties.
It leads to a system of safe seats on Wirral where one political party holds all the seats in a ward for a very, very long time. Voters are in such wards can become apathetic of voting as they feel the election is a foregone conclusion and their vote won’t make a difference to the outcome. The only thing that tends to shake things up are boundary changes.
Personally I view this current situation as bad for democracy (although those who it benefits may disagree). As much as some politicians may not like scrutiny, they make better decisions more in tune with public opinion when other political parties (and individuals) are scrutinising them. If a politician feels they may in the future either suffer the embarrassment of losing an election (or not be reselected by their party as their candidate) it can lead to them working harder in the public interest for the full term of their office (and not just at election time).
We have a system on Wirral where politicians’ future career prospects are based on reselection by their party who then goes on to fund their campaign (subsidised by the taxpayer). Comments on the system of democracy we have are welcome.
P.S. I’ll also formally announce something here I decided a while ago. I won’t be standing as a candidate in the Wirral Council elections in 2014.
Writing this blog and publishing the footage of public meetings (only possible because of media and consultancy work I do that is better paid than writing about Wirral Council) is in my view more in the public interest than the commercial work I do.
To be honest with you I’m much better at being a blogger with the freedom to say things as I see them rather than get bogged down in the party politics of Wirral (which is tarnished by a past reputation for doing things for party political reasons rather than acting in the public interest).
On a related matter the proposed legislation which includes a clause about filming Council meetings (the Local Audit and Accountability Bill) reaches its third reading and report stage tomorrow (17th December 2013). These are the last of its stages in the House of Commons.
There are two more stages to go after that before it becomes law. Once it becomes law there will be secondary legislation on the filming issue (the Local Government Association wants to be consulted on it), which will hopefully make the current unsatisfactory situation much clearer.
If the only result of starting this blog (and no it wasn’t just me getting angry about this issue but other people too I’m not going to take the sole credit despite this blog being cited in one of Pickle’s press releases about it) is that a change in the law will mean councils (and other bodies spending public money) in England won’t have any spurious legal grounds be able to justify banning audio or video recording of their meetings, then hopefully the greater openness and transparency that results will be a greater contribution to democracy than I could have ever achieved had I been elected as a Wirral Council councillor. Personally I would’ve preferred to try out the human rights arguments about the filming matter in a court of law, but a change of legislation is a better long-term outcome.
On the subject of courts of law, the libel case involving Jacqui Thompson (the woman who was arrested for filming a Council meeting in Wales) has a hearing in the Court of Appeal today. Update 14:40 Permission to appeal was refused. There have been reports in the press about the legality of Carmarthenshire County Council’s paying for its Chief Executive Mark James’ legal costs in this case.
In more local legal matters the issue of Wirral Council’s request for a possession order for Fernbank Farm will be decided at Birkenhead County Court some time in the New Year.
If you click on any of these buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people. Thanks: