Reward councillors for their hard work and dedication

Earlier this week I reported on a comment attributed to Grant Shapps during his love-in with Jason Kitcat, a councillor of this Parish. Mr Shapps is said to have expressed the view that councillors should not be paid, and neither should Members of Parliament.

Linda asks if Jason Kitkat had actually asked Grant Shapps about extra funding for councillors to cover childcare.  She writes: “Being a councillor is not (or should not be) a full-time job, it’s voluntary, like being a magistrate etc.  I presume people shouldn’t volunteer to become councillors if they don’t have the spare time to fulfil the duties of their post.”

I agree with Clive’s sarcastic response to Linda: “Quite right. Only rich people who can afford childcare should be allowed to be councillors, what-what?”

In an area like Brighton and Hove, being a councillor is almost a full time job, not least if you are a Cabinet member of a leading opposition spokesperson. It raises the question: what sort of person do we want as our elected representatives? Do we just want people who are well off (ie. rich) to become councillors? Do we just want ‘professional’ activists – those who work for MPs (Bishop Brian, Momma Grizzly, etc.)?

Paul Perrin suggests asks “how about ensuring that candidates for the council have had a reasonably wide experience of normal life before the become councillors? There’s a thought!”

It is not easy being a candidate or councillor. Someone recently commented that it seems to be easier to progress as a political employee than someone with a non-political career. Several former Green councillors did not stand at the recent elections because they found being a Councillor was not compatible with progressing their careers.

Again, I agree with Clive: “It may not be the best time to suggest childcare allowances for councillors given the general picture. But, having read Jason Kitcat’s blog, it seems to me that the really extraordinary point is Grant Shapps’ suggestion that even MPs ought not to be paid, let alone councillors. How reactionary are some of these people! It’s like local Tory wire-puller Mike Holland, and his brilliant idea of reserving half the council’s seats for business people (and how on earth would you define that precisely?) Representative government ought to be what it says, and to that end some effort ought to be made – though perhaps not right now – to encourage more councillors with young families.  My impresssion is that there aren’t too many at the moment – perhaps if there had been more the city wouldn’t have reached crisis point over schools places?”

I think a fundamental reform is needed. Let’s reduce the number of councillors from 54 to, say, 24, and let’s pay them a decent wage commensurate with the responsibilities they carry. Give them proper admin support so that they can work full time on leading the city.

I have no sympathy with the view that it should be a voluntary endeavour. Give the Kitcats child care. Pay maternity and paternity leave. Make pension contributions. If I was a councillor, I would want to do it as a full time job, get properly rewarded for doing a good job. I wouldn’t want to end my term looking 84 rather than my actual 24…..

A final footnote on political love-ins. Paul Perrin, he of UKIP fame, asks whether it was a freudian slip when I referred to him as “Pal” Perrin’. He asks if I am going soft and reminded me that I said that I would rather stick pins in my eyes than vote UKIP. That remains the case, but I have grown rather fond of my pal Perrin in spite of his views. But, yes, Sweetie, I am going soft.

15 Responses

  1. I completely agree. There can’t really be any argument for making councillors or MPs entirely voluntary. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but does it strike anyone else as odd that it’s a Conservative who made the suggestion? Of all the major parties, I’d hazard a guess that the average Tory candidate would be more likely to be able to afford the expense of being a councillor or MP, than the average Labour, Lib Dem or Green.

    And with MPs, the idea that they would be able to maintain another job as well as doing a decent job in Parliament is laughable. Does Shapps really think that Parliament should be reserved for those who don’t need to work?

    The role of councillor by and large is very under-appreciated job. Sure, some councillors in safe seats can just coast by doing the bare minimum, but that certainly shouldn’t be the norm we aim for. Good councillors work very hard at their roles, to represent their constituents and work in their best interests. This cannot be a role without any remuneration, else we really will end up with a homogeneous council- which I don’t think is in anyone’s interests, certainly not the local residents.

  2. Surveys of Councillors by the LGA (amongst others) over the last decade and more have shown that the average demographic of a Councillor in England across the 3 main Parties at Westminster is white, male over 65 with a private income or retired. Whilst I welcome the wealth of experience which older members bring, this state of affairs is unhealthy as it is not reflective of local populations (even Worthing now!) and particularly B&H. But Idon’t believe BAPS solution about reducing the number of Councillors and paying them effectively a full time salary is the right approach. The biggest problem is the volume of pointless c meetings held which are operational and not strategic and which therefore don’t require strategic decisions from elected Councillors. Getting rid of a third of the current pointless meetings would reduce some of the time commitment at least and could encourage more people to put themselves as Councillors. Oh, and getting rid of meetings starting at 3.00pm or 4.00pm would be an incentive too. Former councillor Simon Williams put an NOM forward on this issue some years ago, Still no change. Let’s have a debate here.


  3. I completely agree about reducing the number of councillors and also about paying them more. I believe it to be more beneficial for everyone if councillors are able to take on the role as a full-time job.

    Having councillors and MPs work on a voluntary basis is completely ludicrous. For a start, there is an enormous amount of work involved in these jobs. What I really don’t like about the idea, though, is that it would mean that only the rich or the retired could be politicians (which you could argue is the case currently). This is quite evidently unfair.

    On another note, I take issue with being dubbed a “professional activist”. This seemingly suggests that I’m AstroTurf rather than grassroots, which I can assure you is not the case. I’m not in to politics because of my job… I have my job because I’m in to politics.

    • You make a very fair point, Momma Grizzly, about doing your job because of your politics, not the other way round. I think you are absolutely right to make that clear. I like the Astro Turf and grassroots analogy. From what I know about you, the Bishop, Lady Everton, and several others, it applies to you all. You are all passionate about your politics and that has led to employment. Good luck to you all. BPB

    • PS If you weren’t passionate about your politics you wouldn’t be reading this blog at 3.21am! That shows real commitment to your politics and even to your Humble Blogger!

    • Representing a party in public office and being employed by that party would be a clear conflict of interest.

      • I don’t think anyone is employed by a Party and elected to public office – a few councillors are employed by the House of Commons to work for MPs as I was 2005-2010. It’s possible one or two Party staff in London or maybe regional office (for Labour this is in Reading) work for their Party and are also local councillors, but usually organisers/agents are not candidates.

        Having said that, I don’t know if any current Green cllrs work for and are paid by the Green Party in Brighton, rather than being employed by the local offices of Caroline Lucas MP or Keith Taylor MEP.

      • I worded it pretty badly – but broadly, an employer (or senior) is always in a position to lean on an employee – for most employers there would be little if any benefit to be had from trying to lean on an councillor/employee even if they were so inclined.

        But if the employer (or person controlling the employment) is political then everything a councillor does is potentially of interest to their ’employer’.

        There is no whip like a financial whip…

  4. Rachael – “Having…MPs work on a voluntary basis is completely ludicrous” – is Mike not claiming his MP’s salary then? Ah, that must explain why he claims for pints of milk and chocolate digestives on his MP expenses. BTW – which local charities will benefit from his generosity? 🙂

    • I’m not sure what point you’re making. I think that paying MPs nothing is a bad idea… They should be paid… Mike is paid… This completely correct.

      Care to clarify?

  5. But how much/little should a councillor get paid?

    Surely no more than they could earn in the jobs market? Being elected a councillor doesn’t suddenly make someone more skilled/competent – so why should they get any more than their skills are actually worth?

    So that puts a cap on a councillors earnings – no more than they would get in the private sector – subject to the minimum required to do the job.

    The other question is the floor – what is minimum they should get? Well the need enough to do their job – turn up, look presentable, do whatever research etc that their job description demands (they can do extra on their own time if they wish). A professional PA gets around £25k – so pro-rata maybe that could be the floor.

    So there’s a range to start with somewhere between (pro rata) £25K and what they would get in the private sector…

  6. Councillors are likely to have much more contact with electors than MPs because they are very local by comparison. That is one of the strengths of the position. It gives moral authority.

    When I was a councillor, wards had only 6500 voters or so but the job was still demanding- though voluntary. The average 3 member ward now is circa 10000, making it essential to pay councillors to do what is more and a more a job that employs their time.

    But I’d prefer a balance between having full-time councillors and their doing other work. I’d like to see a salary but not enough to fully replace work income except for cabinet members/committee chairs. I think there is value in having members drawn from the gamut of occupations in the broader community. Legal protections could be extended for councillors in their other careers.

    I would also be wary of bigger wards because the contact with electors and the intimate knowledge of a local patch will be less. At one time before union Brighton had 59 councillors, Hove & Portslade 36(95 in all). I would like to see wards of 9000 voters and would increase the council size to 60 or so. 3000 voters per councillor is enough for them to have good contact and work elsewhere at least part-time, if they can or wish to do so.

    Economies of Scale come with bigger councils and fewer councillors in hteory. But diseconomies will arise in terms of extent of efficacy of communication with voters.

  7. I hope that my five years working for a travel assistance/tourist information company and my four years working for Sussex Police, (plus some part time work at the Brighton Centre/Dome many years ago) have given me some “real-life” experience to bring to the job, but contact with local people both through my work for Des Turner MP and as a councillor are about as real-life as it gets. Some of the personal and family experiences local residents have relayed to me or that I have seen are pretty harrowing and desperate – it isn’t all dogs mess and parking.

    I agree that fewer councillors and larger wards – basically the model used in many large American cities – removes the local part of being a local councillor. It isn’t easy with wards of 10,500 when there are three of us to be truly “local”. In my ward there are community forum or resident association meetings starting at 10am, 2pm, 6pm or 7pm several times a week. It makes it very difficult to attend those and have regular working hours.

    I agree with Rachael, it isn’t popular to pay politicians but the public quite rightly expect their elected representatives to be local, available and to work hard on their behalf. Like her I am ding this full-time not for the money but because it is what I believe in, and I don’t think we should return to the days when being a councillor or alderman was something welathy or retired businessmen (they were mostly men) did because of the social status.

  8. Having been away, I am disappointed I’ve come to such an interesting debate so late.

    It seems that we are all in agreement that Grant Shapps assertion that politicians should work for free is a nonsense. Reducing the number of councillors is an interesting proposition. Anything that encourage voters to consider local politics to be about more than just bins and pot holes is a plus. It would also make an interesting political battle in wards such as Central Hove (Tory/Green).

    The problems the Kitcats have with childcare are common. It is clear it is a real barrier to entry for many with families. All parties need a greater diversity of candidates to stand both as MPs and Councillors. The Labour Party are committed to having 50% female MPs (currently it’s 32%). However, women only make up 22% of the Commons total. In local councils, 86% of leaders are men.

    This gender inequality is reflected in boardrooms and workplaces through out the country. Childcare is expensive and demand often exceeds supply. A lack of flexible working practices are robbing both business and politics of a generation of very talented, educated women.

    This gender imbalance has another consequence. Nationally, women, particularly those who are lone parents, bear the biggest financial burden as a result of cuts in local services. Yet with so few women to represent them in parliament, their plight goes ignored.

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