The Conservative leader David Cameron has pledged to scrap the £10,000 annual Communications Allowance for MPs. But figures in the Welsh Labour Party are proposing that this spending to be extended to Town Halls, with each councillor to be given £1,000 a year Communications Allowance. The issue has arisen because it is Recommendation 12 out of the 35 recommendations in a report from the grandly titled Councillor Commission Expert Panel Wales.
The "experts" include a lobbyist from BT, someone from the BBC (their "Head of Governanace and Accountability Wales"), a couple of union officials, a couple of Quangocrats, a "Political Adviser, Equalities and Human Rights" and a former Council Chief Executive, a Labour councillor (Cllr Ramesh Patel who has been criticised for making £287.67 of phone calls on a Blackberry given to him by the Council after he was told to return.)
Small wonder that most of the recommendations from this crew of "experts" involve increased public spending on politics. More "equality monitoring amongst candidates." More "training and ongoing in dealing with the press and broadcasters." More spending by the Electoral Commission on this. More spending by the Welsh Local Government Association on that. More spending by the Welsh Assembly Government on the other. More "statutory duties" on Councils to promote "participation." Better "support for councillors in terms of allocation of staff." There is a proposal for every councillor to be allowed a free blackberry (I wonder which "expert" came up with that one.) Another proposal is that councillor remuneration should be increased to allow for their "support needs." On and on it goes. I wonder how much the Commission itself cost to produce this report - it has its own Secretariat.
Along with all this spending they argue that councillors should be allowed "remote voting" so they don't need to bother attending meetings. The bright idea of letting councillors vote from the pub by mobile phone is not new – Hazel Blears got there first.
Welsh Conservatives are opposing the communication allowances plan. Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly Darren Millar says:
“At a time when average council tax bills have topped £1,000 a year and local authorities are facing massive cuts to services, people across Wales will be outraged by this proposal. Taxpayers’ money should not be siphoned off to bankroll councillors’ propaganda. It should be used to fund local services.”
I hope the Conservatives will reject the other 34 proposals as well.