Should the top Special Responsibility Allowances be changed?

We have had the debate and counter debate on Councillors allowances and a debate will be had on the Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) for the next full meeting of the council on the 16th April. This is being done because the model of governance at Cornwall Council is changing to a modified cabinet system.

The basic Councillor allowance (wage in reality) is set at £12,250. Just to dispel (again) the myths this allowance is taxed, and apart from mileage, there are no other day-to-day expenses.

Currently, the top SRA’s are for the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, Chairman of the Council and Cabinet Members. The current rates per year and are paid on top of the basic allowance:

  • Leader of the Council – £22,532.53
  • Deputy Leader of the Council – £18,025.95
  • Chairman of the Council – £16,700.51
  • Cabinet Member – £16,700.51

Now the question is should these be reduced, or even raised? Yes, yes I know a few people would have choked on the word raised. But to be fair, you have to ask that question to give balance to the debate. Though it is unlikely a raise would be supported after the allowance debate.

My view is they should be reduced. Might as well clear that point up at the beginning. The Leader’s SRA losing £10,000 and the Deputy Leader, Chairman of the Council and Cabinet Member seeing a reduction to £10,000 per year. That is still a very liveable wage and is in line with the average wage in Cornwall once you combine the SRA and basic allowance.

But before the debate happens at full council, it would be good to hear your views. I have also worked out how to do Polls on the blog, so this question will be the first Poll I do.

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Another Tory Goes at Cornwall Council

It has been a tough-time being a Tory at Cornwall Council. They lost a Council Leader (14 of them in voted in favour to remove), and a couple of Cabinet Members quit after that decision. Replacements stepped in, but last week a further two quit. One over the use of via a third-party of using what could be considered a lie detector test to see if they are not trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the council in claiming the Single Person Discount for Council Tax.

Now, it seems the Tory group has four groups within it. The former Leaders Shadow-Shadow Cabinet, Jim’s Courageous, Fiona’s Faithful, and the rest.

However, the latest resignation from both the Cabinet and Cornwall Council is the saddest news. George Trubody, the Councillor representing Rame, has stood down in both roles. The one of the reasons he has stood down is he has been offered a job that is impossible to turn down. Even though he really wanted to continue being a Councillor.

Credit where credit is due, George is a hard-working Councillor, especially at the local level. If rumours the are true, George would have been returned post May without putting out a leaflet because of all the hard-work he does. However, there is a real sadness to his resignation.

That sadness is because he could no longer afford to be a committed Councillor as he told many of his fellow Councillors in the Members room on the day he stood down. The reality of a hard-working Councillor having to step down in this way is tragic. George is also one of the few (I count six) who is under forty, and one of a dozen(ish) who is under forty-five. I wish George the best of luck, and maybe he will return to politics when he can afford to.

People have to ask themselves if they want committed, hard-working Councillors by paying them something to live on whilst carrying out their duties? Yes I know the recent rise has angered many of the public, but do we really want a Council full of people who have independent means to support their role? Surely an allowance should reflect the living wage of the area, but nothing more? I feel to do the role justice, you have to give it your full attention.

For anyone wishing to stand, they need to know the current allowance set for post-May is being challenged by a small group at Cornwall Council, who are attempting to overturn the full council’s decision. More on that later…

Am I Worth £4.36?

The very emotive subject of Councillors allowances (or pay) was discussed at October’s meeting of Cornwall Council. I think the fact that Councillor’s having to vote for their own allowance gets people more annoyed than the actual amount. Though, depending on the amount,  people can get equally annoyed, but I think you get my point. However, without a change to the Law, Councillors will still have to vote for their allowances. Which I believe is rather stupid.

Let’s make it clear, apart from a Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) a Councillor is not paid any more money. No attendance allowance, no other daily expenses (apart for mileage for journey’s to an official meeting – strict rules apply). The allowance is also taxed and subject to National Insurance. I have often heard you must get expenses too. Well I do not, apart from being able to claim for a meal at County Hall.

When a Council looks into the allowances, an Independent Review Panel (IRP) is set up and is made up of people not connected to the Council. It looks at the workload, time, duties etc of a Councillor and sets the rate according to its findings. It then makes its report to the Council who either accept the findings, or in most cases chooses not to accept anything due to the public backlash.

In the IRP report it recommended the rate of allowance should be £16,400. This is roughly a £4000 rise from the current (£12,250) allowance. Three years ago, the IRP recommended the allowance should be £14,600. This was turned down by the majority of the Council. I must also point out, the increase of any amount would start at the new Council post the elections in May 2013, not now.

So what is the cost to the elector for having a Councillor? Using the current allowance, taking the average number of electors in each Cornwall Council Division (3,344 people) I cost £3.60 (not including mileage) per elector per year, or 30 pence per month. So I would say I am good value, for the amount of work I currently do.

Now during the debate the various side of the argument said their piece. As always, it was interesting to hear why people should/should not vote for the allowance. Jude Robinson summed it up beautifully. She said many Councillors are saying “they don’t need the allowance” etc,  but as she pointed out they all claim the allowance.

To spare you from reliving the debate, the £16,400 IRP recommendation turned down, but an amendment was put forward for £14,600 which was the amount recommended by the IRP three years ago. This vote was carried 42 votes for, 29 votes against and four abstentions.

A further question that needs to be asked is what do you want a Councillor to be? Attending meetings; fighting their areas corner over getting the right services in their area; helping people with problems and offering advice on 101 subjects? Or do you want someone who cannot give everything to the role because they have to find money to pay for bills and the cost of living?

I have heard it too many times people say why has so few Councillors attended a briefing on a certain subject? In a lot of cases is because they have to work, or have other responsibilities that take them away from being a Councillor. Furthermore, I firmly believe no Councillor should be paid no more than the average wage (blog on the subject) of the area/Cornwall.

So ask yourself; am I now  worth £4.36, per year (36p per month), per elector? Is that a price worth paying for democracy?

The Debate

Today the Independent (not council) Remuneration Panel published its Report. The IRP has spent the last few months interviewing and collating data on what a Cornwall Councillor should be paid. This Panel has no connection to the Council.
Some months ago a questionnaire was sent out to all Councillors. Failing that copies were available from the Member Support Officer (Sarah) She is like a Mother. She will hear your moans, gripes and general inquiries. She listens like a mother would. Sometimes saying yes, good idea, but other times she give you that look like a mother would meaning “stupid boy”.
Sadly out of 123 Councillors, only 53 did indeed fill in an return this questionnaire. You would think those others would have taken the time to fill in something that will effect them. Maybe they don’t care, but I hope those who did not complete it don’t regret taking 30 mins or so to complete this.
Here is the report going to Full Council (Cornwall Council).
Now this was always going to be a difficult decision when it comes to money and you (The Councillors) are the ones who have to vote for it. I think this should be taken out of our hands with a fully independent pay/allowance body. That way it will be free from any Political influence.
For me this is my only form of income. Its a full time job for me. It does not give me scope to find other forms of income. I could work at night, but then I will never see my son who lives with me part of the time. All I want is a living wage. I think the small increase to £14k is justifiable.  Many others might agree or disagree. I will vote and will speak on this matter during the debate. I will give my reasons why I will be voting in a certain way.
Every member of the Council should have a free vote on this matter. Sadly I don’t think this will happen. I believe some people will try and play Politics on this. Maybe from their Whips, Leaders or the Party HQ.
Maybe if there was a living wage then more people would indeed stand for election. There are lot’s of younger people who would love to be involved, but just could not afford to do it. Maybe we should think long on hard on this. Serving the community should not be the exclusive right of the Retired or those of Independent Means.
If you look at the make up of the Council only a few are under the age of 40. About 3 under 30 (the youngest is 21) The rest I would call near or at the retirement age. Is this a correct reflection or the people of Cornwall? I for one don’t think so. We should do more to encourage people to enter Local Government, but if they can’t afford to even live, then we will never encourage people in. 
One thing that is going to happen is a lively and emotive debate.