The Labour MP Clive Betts, who is "Chair" of the Communities and Local Government Committee, has taken to the airwaves today demanding an increase in councillor allowances. This reflects a report from his committee. As the blunt speaking folk of Sheffield might put it: "What planet is he on?"
We could have an interesting debate about whether allowances should be abolished. Abolition would mean we would save Council Taxpayers a few hundred million pounds a year. We would have more independently minded councillors. They would identify more with residents, less with Council employees – which they would cease to be. Deadbeats clinging on just for their allowances would have an inclination stand down. Civic pride would be enhanced.
For my part, I would still wish to be a councillor if the role was unpaid, regarding it as an enjoyable and important role. However, I would not be able to afford to spend as much time on it which would reduce my effectiveness. But then it is not all about me. Probably the abolition of councillors allowances would overall provide better as well as cheaper local administration.
The number of hours that councillors put in varies enormously. Not that a labour theory of value should be applied. Councillors might well spend many hours writing emails or attending meetings unproductively. Or causing great harm.
Nobody should be fooled by the fig leaf that an independent body has recommended that councillor allowances be increased. Mr Betts' committee worries that councillors "shy away" from increasing allowances due to the "negative" views of those they are supposed to represent. He is anxious for "appropriate mechanisms" to overcome this tiresome bureaucratic barrier. He offers us entitlement blather about "councillors have a right to expect an appropriate level of compensation."
What about school governors? Does Mr Betts feel they have a "right" to be paid? There are many more of them than councillors but school governors aren't paid a bean. I suspect that many chairmen of school governing boards put in more hours than many councillors. Of course thousands serve as both.
The Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps points out that Labour have a vested interest in maximising councillor allowances:
"The Labour party have, effectively, in their rules, a National Executive Committee-ratified change of rules, which means that – and people won’t be aware of this – councils actually use, council payroll systems are actually used, for Labour councillors remuneration to be paid centrally and locally, right from source. It’s about 7% and any increase in councillor allowances would therefore mean an increase in central budgets for the Labour Party."
If council budgets are being cut so should councillor allowances. There should be fewer of us. We should be paid less. This is a cause that Conservative councillors should be putting forward in motions at council meetings across the land.