The level of councillor allowances varies widely, as some useful recent research by the TaxPayers Alliance has confirmed. The figures covered the amount paid in 2014/15.
In London we see that Croydon had the highest basic allowance – £11,239 – while Kingston upon Thames had the lowest basic allowance at £7,646.
By contrast, all Welsh councils paid a basic rate of £13,300.
Where there are two tier authorities it is reasonable that councillors are paid less. But the London boroughs and Welsh councils are broadly comparable. They are, broadly speaking, unitary authorities with equivalent responsibilities. Is there any evidence that local democracy in the principality flourishes any more as a result of their local representatives being so much better remunerated than those of us in London?
When we compare the county councils: was Nottinghamshire – which splashed out £12,906 a time on its basic allowance – any better served as a result than Cambridgeshire which spent £7,700?
Or among the district councils, have the people of Bolsover really gained from paying each of their councillors £9,902 in basic allowances? The residents of South Ribble seem to get by with only paying each of their councillors £1,523.
Do the Scots benefit from substantially higher councillor allowances even than Wales? Moray had the highest basic allowance – £16,722. Clackmannanshire had the lowest basic allowance – £16,216.
How do these councillors get away with paying themselves so much? One answer is to have an “Independent Remuneration Panel” which councillors can solemnly defer to. For example, they can piously declare that while the Independent Remuneration Panel’s considered judgment was that there should be an increase of 22 per cent they had resolved to only have an increase of eight per cent.
I made some enquiries about the Independent Remuneration Panel for my own local authority, Hammersmith and Fulham. The response was as follows:
!1. The names of the Independent Remuneration Panel.
The panel in 2014 was Sir Rodney Brooke CBE DL (Chair), Steve Bundred and Anne Watts CBE.
2. How they came to be appointed.
The Independent Panel is constituted under the Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, which gives the Association of London Government (now known as London Councils) the power to appoint an independent remuneration panel on behalf of the London Boroughs. On behalf of Members, London Councils Chief Executive invited the panel to convene.
3. How much they are paid.
In 2014 – Chair; £4,500 and other members – £1,500 each.”
Perhaps it was a couple of days work. Say they were on around a thousand pounds a day. How likely would they be to concur with my argument that allowances should be abolished? Or even to propose a reduction?
In Wales the conflict of interest is more stark. The Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales includes the following:
Richard Penn (Chair):”Mr Penn undertakes consultancy work for local authorities and also advises and represents chief executives and directors of local authorities in their employment relationships with their employing authorities” … “Richard is a member of the Labour Party.”
Mr Gregory Owens: “He is the 2015 General Election agent for Cardiff West Constituency Labour Party.”
So, one of them flogs consultancy services to councils, another is the agent for a Labour Party – which is funded by a “tithe” from councillors…
To get a really “independent” view from these remuneration panels, appointees should consist of those without political interests and they should not be paid for their work on such panels.