Jason Kitcat defending the indefensible

It is nothing but outrageous, and in today’s Argus Green Council Leader, Jason Kitcat, defends the payment to councillors in Brighton and Hove allowances of £11,463. It is a disgrace and I am bitterly disappointed, nay shocked, that councillor Kitcat can defend the indefensible.

But unlike the Taxpayers Allowance, I think this figure is far too low. We expect a great amount from our councillors, and most put in more hours than the majority of us work. It isn’t just a matter of attending meetings, it is the community engagement, the case work, the background research, the attendance at community meetings, and so on. We expect them to have a broad vision for the City, to articulate policies, and to debate the issues of the day.

I think that councillors should be paid much, much more, perhaps three times the current amount, but I think there should be far fewer councillors. I would suggest a reduction from the current 54 councillors to, say, 20, with extra responsibility allowances for perhaps 5 or 6 of them – the Leader, the cabinet member/chair of 3 or 4 key portfolios, and the leaders of the opposition parties.

The current cost of allowances in Brighton and Hove, excluding special responsibility allowances, is around £620,000. The BPB alternative would cost £688,000, the difference being saved from the numerous special responsibility allowances that currently exist.

Councillors are important. At the last election we lost four young councillors who could not afford the time and career sacrifice that being a councillor entails. By paying councillors a decent salary, and contracting them to work a set number of hours (thereby allowing them to develop alternate careers and/or training) the quality of democracy would improve.

17 Responses

  1. On this we agree. Being a councillor should not be seen as an easy way to top up a pension; we need fewer councillors and they should be better paid.

  2. I agree with the sentiment. Here’s what I said to The Argus in totality:

    Brighton & Hove City Council is the only unitary authority in Sussex so will naturally have a different rate of allowances to reflect the unique nature of the responsibilities councillors for our city undertake when compared to those in district and county councils.

    Our allowances are recommended by an independent panel and are very much in line with similar unitary authorities elsewhere such as Bristol, Cardiff or Southampton. To attract and retain the best councillor candidates we need to offer decent recompense for the time they spend serving our city. When compared to local councillors in other countries, England has very low levels of allowances which raises questions over what value we, as a society, place on local democracy.

    • So leader of the council calls for higher pay (with a history of asking for more benefits), pretty much every one else says no…

      Any one notice a pattern?

      To avoid any conflict of interest worries, maybe the Kitcats will publish all sources of their family income?

  3. Since all the new councillors are trained to within an inch of their lives to become like the officers and, as Chairs, to parrot off template behaviours and forms of words (Stepford Greens especially), it seems pointlessly expensive to formalise this role as officer frontmen and women.

    If the public (including you BPB, who only know one area of the council) attended council meetings or tuned into the messy webcam coverage they would soon have realise all cllrs are really fit for is political yammer….the

    Wise words from a former Administration Leader “The Greens must not be pulled along by the officers” has fallen on deaf ears as they willingly submit.

    • Valerie, I’d be interested to know what the evidence is of the this deference to officers is, preferably with reference to some specific examples.

      • Example: Ask Cllr Christopher Hawtree who it was advised him to reply to the presentation of the Medina House petition on 8th August by merely noting it, in spite of the Agenda 42(a) item list of 3 options for replying under “Recommendations” and that petiition being a notified and published agenda item in the hands of officers and cllrs alike for over a week in advance of that planning committee meeting.

        i think it must have been an officer, don’t you?

  4. Struggling with this page tonight as bits overlap and make editing impossible. ‘scuse typos I could not see to erase in previous post.

    …to continue: Full time pay for full-time work would keep young councillors but they would still be working for their parties and not the council or the public. As a job it is a rite of passage to get to other things like MP, Chairing other bodies like Brighton Fringe, etc. etc.

  5. …and as a rite of passage leading elsewhere, how does Deputy Leader of the Green Party, nationally, strike you? Cllr Alex Phillips has only been a councillor for 3-4 years and worked before that for Caroline Lucas in Brussels. Moving too fast in my view. And her profile as a councillor has been low to say the most. Cunning though. Her invitation from me to attend an Argus photo-call to launch Connaught School petition morphed into a Green victory in the election bumpf. Melanie Davies did similar but at least Melanie brought Action4Kids to the photoshoot and made that contribution.

    Love her or loathe her (and I loathe her), Cllr Barnett is all over the shop and seeking out problems to solve in her ward – or she used to until she decided to become a party political mouthpiece and just yammer off about what others are not doing.

    In order for councillors to become worthy of a more than a part-time stipend, they would have to become trustworthy and less self-seeking and they would have to be able to call officers to account and get results where they are concerned.

    There are a few councillors who really are efficient, hands on and earnest and whose party politics are not always running in front of them banging people over the head but few members of the public could accurately name them.

  6. And remember Maria Caulfield? Sought out selection whilst serving in her first term as a councillor and stood for election in WALES when she should have been attending to her councillor/cabinet duties in Brighton and Hove. How was that for tick-box ambition racing away.

  7. Fewer does not necessarily mean better BPB. Councillors need to be close to the people that elect them-fewer will mean being more remote! Your scheme would see 10000 voters per elected member. If fewer were better why not have one elected mayor and no council ?(answer -because there would be no checks and balances).

    I think that the present number is OK but there is a case for more professional councillors-so they should have higher allowances. There is also an argument for their not being full-time but having at least part-time jobs too, so as to be more representative of the communities served.

    There is nothing wrong with being a careerist if you are an able person-especially if that is linked to clear politics.So why shouldn’t Maria Caulfield seek election in Wales as an AM or MP or MEP? And Maria Caulfield was clearly able, just unlucky to suffer defeat in a most often unwinnable ward for her party.

    • While it might be nice for councillors to have external jobs (full or part time) given the current jobs market, how would you suggest arranging this reliably?

      I think it iis eontirely up to councillors to arrange their working lives, and ensjre they can carry out their council duties if elected.

      They clearly allow them selves to be bogged down in detail – this suit them as it means they look busy and can ask fr more of our money, it suits officers because it keeps County cillors out of their way, it suits central government because it ensures councillors don’t really have much control. Of course it is bad for local democracy – it makes little difference who your councillors are, so who cares?

      The council needs councillors who can make a real impression, not just drift along with a vague party spin.

  8. Valerie seems to have a bee in her bonnet about political parties of late. Perhaps she could explain how independent candidates of limited means could mount campaigns, with all their associated costs, when even the main parties are feeling the financial pinch in the light of falling memberships and contributions. Or is politics to return to being the playground of the comfortably-off? I’m a Labour member because I am in broad agreement with its aims and platform – as, I suspect, are most members of all parties. there’s nothing wrong with that and it helps bring a certain coherence to politics, with voters able to identify what they’re likely to get for their votes.

    As to councillors’ allowances, I have long advocated a move to professional salaries with concomitant obligations on their recipients. Labour are making moves on one side of this equation with our candidate contracts, but I shouldn’t imagine any councillor would want to be part of the administration that pushed through a salaries package in the face of ongoing public dislike of politicians as a whole.

    Sadly, until such a system is adopted, local politics in all but the biggest cities will remain (save those councillors we all know who sacrifice considerably in order to treat their offices as full time jobs) the province of the retired and the well-heeled (or those funded by Brussels allowances) – not so much of a problem in a one-horse town but a distinct failing in a complex and fast-moving city like ours.

    • Tim, party politics is a problem. It is high time it was faced up to.

      First loyalty is to party. People hide within that comfort zone/blanket and rely on party policy to do the talking for them. BPB begins his final paragraph by saying “Councillors are important”. My reply to that is “Discuss”.

      As for cost of being an Independent: Isn’t it the case that candidates in parties have to pay for their own printing of election campaigning leaflets? How did Jayne Bennett manage it when she was an Independent?

      Democracy is just a tableau now. A set of mimes and postures with scripted comments. Comments are totally contrived as a consequence to fit into these set-piece formats. Stiff, empty, wooden. Probably why Boris Johnson comes across as a breath of fresh air and welcome, never mind the content.

    • If parties with external resources didn’t push the costs up, independent and non LibLabCon candidates could get equal coverage at sensible costs.

      LibLabCon *like* high costs as it is a barrier to entry to their cartel on political power.

      Now that the Greens are supping at the nipple of public funds they too are finding it to their liking.

      Me? Taking money from taxpayers worse off tham myself will always disgust me.

  9. Totaly disagree – if anything more councillors on lower allowances.

    For the same reason an elected major would be an abberation – the fewer people ‘representing’ the people, then the less diversity that can be represented.

    I don’t ask much of my councillors… in fact 99% of what I ask of them is to stop other councillors doing things that I don’t want them to do either!

    Professional politicians are a modern scourge.

    However, non-professionals needs to be very confident and determined – if they need a job title and pay for ‘authority’ then they aren’t up to the job – with or without them.

    • You are not wrong. To amplify: councillors will not skill up to become the equal of officers so they are in a position to call them to account – just not possible. Councillors will only ever be toe-in-the-water familiar in a general sense (as I am concerning planning, planning strategy and development issues) and less than GP-level, not even med student level, capable of diagnostics and research of ANY council function.

      It is therefore logical to put them in their ego-driven places by returning to the 78 we had before downsizing to 54 and to reduce stipend to the level of merit they deserve.

      Attending meetings and sitting there is not a skill, it is a ourtesy. They do little more.

    • You are not wrong. To amplify: councillors will not skill up to become the equal of officers so they are in a position to call them to account – just not possible. Councillors will mostly only ever be toe-in-the-water familiar in a general sense (as I am concerning planning, planning strategy and development issues) and less than GP-level, not even med student level, capable of diagnostics and research of ANY council function. And the only terrier-like research they do is aimed at doing down a political rival, regardless of capacity to do better.

      There have been exceptions. Anyone remember Steve Collier? So good he got de-selected.

      It is therefore logical to put them in their ego-driven places by returning to the 78 we had before downsizing to 54 and to reduce stipend to the level of merit they deserve.

      Attending meetings and sitting there is not a skill, it is a courtesy. They do little more.

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