Councillors’ expenses and attendance at meetings are a hot topic, in particular with the looming local elections. These are both the subject of hot debate across several local Facebook sites …
As we run up to local elections in May, there are already posts appearing on local social media highlighting the expenses that Central Bedfordshire Council members receive. I do not in any way disagree with the figures that have been published, but there is a subtext that suggests we are being paid for doing very little.
The writer on social media has made a very rudimentary calculation to arrive at a figure of how much some Councillors are paid per meeting they attend – but in doing this, only serves to demonstrate that time spent at Council committees (which are the only attendances recorded on the Council’s official attendance figures) only represents a small proportion of the work that a Councillor undertakes; most of the work of a Councillor is going on behind the scenes.
I will not pretend that all Councillors put the same effort into their work, and there are some who have gone ‘absent without leave’ for considerable periods of time which is unforgiveable and does a disservice to the people who elected them. But I do know that most of my colleagues at CBC of all political persuasions work tirelessly for the communities they represent, and give excellent ‘value for money’.
The allowance enables them to fulfil their role, but the motivation of most Councillors is to serve the local community, to help local residents, and to make the area they represent a better place to live.
Throughout my blog posts, I have made a deliberate attempt to give local residents an insight into my typical week by publishing an overview of my weekly diary – although for obvious reasons I omit any details of time spent on casework, which does occupy a very significant amount of my time.
It is worth noting from the outset that some Councillors – particularly those with additional responsibilities – put in ‘full time hours’ or more. And whilst they may not work a typical 9 to 5 day, Monday to Friday, the hours they work are approaching, and in many cases far exceeding, a ’40 hour week’. The work of a CBC Councillor also extends into evenings and weekends, whether it be attending meetings, dealing with residents’ problems or preparation for meetings.
Attending ‘official’ meetings of the Council – either Full Council, Oversight and Scrutiny Committees, or other committees, makes up a relatively small amount of a Councillors work load. These however are the only meetings that appear on the register of attendance at meetings.
Those with additional responsibilities such as myself will attend a lot of additional meetings with Council Officers, to receive briefings on emerging issues, to discuss ongoing strategy, to find out information and so on.
In my role as Deputy Executive Member for Families, Education and Children, I will meet with different stakeholders within the Council and external bodies, undertake visits around the county to meet representatives of charities, groups and other service providers.
I also chair the Corporate Parenting Panel, I am a member of the Fostering and Permanence Panel (reviewing potential foster parents and placements), and represent the Council on several outside bodies. Most of my colleagues have similar additional responsibilities, none of which appear as attendance at a meeting!
Any Councillor who takes their role seriously will ensure they are well briefed before any meeting, and will spend time reading all of the supporting papers. It can take many hours if not days to read all of the papers for a single meeting.
And then there is the casework – dealing with individual residents’ problems. This is in itself a full time job and occupies vast amount of time. Please do not think I am whinging – for me, this is a massively important and fulfilling part of the job, and quite honestly I would much rather be helping local residents than sitting in a meeting. But even the simplest of queries can take many hours spread over several days or longer to resolve.
This is not a ‘9 to 5’ post either – when a local resident contacts you in tears because they have a housing issue, it is no good telling them to call back during working hours. Whilst I won’t claim to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I will normally respond to urgent emails as soon as I reasonably can … and I know this would be the same for many of my colleagues.
The work of CBC Councillor extends far beyond what is reported on the attendance figures for official meetings. Yes, a Councillor can chose to do as little as the bare minimum (which is to attend one meeting in a 6 month period), but I can only think of a tiny minority – 2 names spring to mind – who seem to deliberately exploit the attendance rules, and the sooner they cease to be a Councillor the better.
It is also worth explaining the allowances and expenses paid to CBC Councillors (and reiterating the point that no allowance is paid for being a Leighton Linslade Town Council councillor, although it is the case that some LLTC councillors are also CBC councillors, and hence receive an allowance from CBC).
- Basic Allowance – £10,995 – paid to all CBC Councillors. This is not dependent on attendance at meetings (subject to meeting the minimum of attending one meeting in 6 months), and is an allowance to cover the costs incurred as a Councillor, and in particular, to cover any loss of earnings elsewhere. For many colleagues, it is the basic allowance that enables them to commit the necessary time to being a Councillor.
- Special Responsibility Allowance – £variable, but for me this is £6247 – paid to Councillors with additional responsibilities. This additional allowance is paid to Councillors who have extra responsibilities on the Council, such as being a Committee Chair or being a member of the Council’s Executive. I am the Deputy Executive Member for Families, Education and Children and with this post comes a significant extra workload, including additional meetings (which are not recorded in the official attendance figures).
- Travel – £variable – paid to reimburse travel costs. Some Councillors do not claim this as they car share or simply chose not to claim this allowance.
- ICT allowance – £1048 – to cover ICT costs including the purchase and maintenance of equipment, mobile telephone subscriptions etc. Whilst some Councils provide members with a mobile telephone, laptop and / or tablet, CBC pays an additional allowance to members to cover this cost. Members are then responsible for purchasing and maintaining their own equipment, and for any subscription charges.
Returning to the reported attendance at Council Meetings, this has become quite a hot topic on several local social media sites. And whilst the figures that have been reported are correct, they only tell half a story. The number of committees that a Councillor is on varies from one Councillor to another – therefore if a Councillor is only on 1 or 2 committees, it is relatively easy to have 100% attendance but only attend 10 or fewer meetings. On the other hand, some Councillors sit on lots of committees, and may be expected at 20 or more meetings – and whilst they may attend 18 of these meetings, their attendance will only be 90%. The difficulty is when Councillors are only expected at a small number of meetings and still fail to attend …
It is also worth noting that many Councillors are recorded as ‘in attendance’ at meetings – these are meetings that the Councillor has attended although they are not a member of that committee – and as such it does not show in the attendance percentage figures.
I hope that readers will make their own mind up as to whether their local Councillors offer good value.