Mark Wallace, senior account manager at Portland Communications and author of the Crash! Bang! Wallace blog says even residents of Scilly get angry over excess Council pay awards
The Scilly Isles’ tourist blurb describes the Islands as “a reminder of a slower, kinder and more genteel England”. The description may well be true more generally, but Scilly is currently the setting for what is becoming one of the most bitter and hard-fought battles in British local government.
Back in May a closed meeting of the Isles’ council voted to give senior council officers a whopping 18% pay rise. Understandably, given the dire economic conditions, the mess the public finances are in and the suffering the people of Scilly have endured in the recession, the decision generated instant outrage.
One councillor, Chris Thomas, immediately resigned his seat in protest at the decision, and residents immediately began gathering signatures for a petition against the rise. Angry public meetings have been held, and there have even been calls for the local MP to get involved.
Remarkably, the latest council meeting on the issue lasted for hours and had to defer the decision until September so that the council can gather legal advice.
This is a reminder that no matter how “slow, kind and genteel” a community might be, a council playing fast and loose with splashing taxpayers’ cash is still a recipe for disaster. If any council thinks that with the MPs’ expenses scandal over a year past and elections out of the way they can just go back to their bad old ways, they have another thing coming.
This kind of standoff, with a population up in arms but ignored by the council, should become a thing of the past in a truly localist Britain. Scilly’s residents should have the power to force a referendum (or by-elections for the councillors responsible) on the back of a petition.
Indeed, I gather the protesters are now investigating whether historic by-laws can be used to give them that power. It is wrong that they have been driven to such lengths just to get the council to do what the people want.
If disenfranchisement and unchecked high spending can even cause rancour in Britain’s laid-back paradise islands, think what it can do to larger communities with more serious problems. In the end, more direct democracy would be good for the reputation and stress levels of councillors and their officers, as well as for voters.