Snouts in the trough

I note from today’s Express & Star (3rd January 2012) that the plan to increase Walsall Councillors Personal Allowances has again reared it’s ugly head. It seams that soon, the cabinet will vote wether to give themselves a juicy pay rise, including over £2,000 a year more to the leader, and doubling the deputy leader’s package, an increase in over £6,000 per annum. This at a time when services have been cut to the bone and residents and council tax payers have been turned upside down and shaken for everything from parking to funeral fees. With redundancies and cost cutting ongoing at the beleaguered authority, this seems a tad on the insensitive side.

We’re assured, of course, that this is purely to bring our council inline with others. Oddly, this doesn’t appear to be reflected in the wage policy of the rank and file, nor does there appear to be much of a head-hunting market for our electoral members.

From the Express & Star website, Tuesday, 3rd January 2011. Click to visit the ordinal story.

Senior Walsall councillors in line for a £6,700 rise

Tuesday 3rd January 2012, 11:00AM GMT.

Senior councillors in Walsall are set to receive increases in allowances of up to £6,700, it can be revealed today.

The authority is set to agree a rise for the leader of the council, the deputy leader and cabinet members, to take effect from April.

The increases are outlined in a report due to go before the full council meeting next Monday.

It says an independent panel has recommended that the leader is awarded an increase of more than £2,000 to £22,356 per year, while the deputy leader’s allowance should be nearly doubled from £8,302 to £15,000.

The allowances of cabinet members would increase from £8,300 to £9,300.

The panel said the increases would narrow the gap between Walsall’s allowances and those of other local authorities.

The news comes as 99 jobs are due to be cut at the council in the next financial year.

Council leader Councillor Mike Bird said: “It’s not the people the panel has looked at, it is the positions.

 “The independent panel, and they are exactly that, says it is what we should do.

 “It is quite a responsible job, and it’s even more responsible with the budget situation. You have to pay for the expertise you are employing.”

He added: “If you look at the rest of the country, our pay is far below the median.”

In the report, it is said that the median or average pay at other councils across the country is £26,850 for council leaders and £17,500 for deputy leaders.

The report recommends that councillors agree the proposed increases with a long-term plan to bring the wages in line with the median.

Deputy leader of the council Adrian Andrew said: “If you go into local politics for the money, there’s no point.

“I do think we should be brought in line with other councils of a comparable size.”

That self-contradictory statement – ‘it’s not about the people, it’s about the positions … You have to pay for the expertise you are employing’ is a wonderful Birdism. If the sentiment sounds familiar, longtime followers of the Council and it’s tact-challenged leader will recall that the last time this proposal was mooted, Blofeld went on record complaining that he earned only £1.68 an hour and was worth over a £100,000 a year to Walsall. This extraordinary claim would have meant he worked 345 hours a week. That’s dedication. We’re still in awe, frankly.

Meanwhile, in the print versions of the local inky, there was more analysis. Dogged hack Hannah Webster searched the depths of her contact list before hitting the last number redial, and called the hateful Taxpayers Alliance, who predictably reacted with shock and anger, like some monetarist speaking clock. Shame she didn’t ask who funded them while she was on the line…

The more interesting reaction came from the Labour group.

From the Walsall Expres & Star, 3rd January 2012. Click for a legible version.

The interesting thing about this episode is that, if, as we are to believe, Labour are to snatch control of Walsall Council in May, that will mean a Labour cabinet and leader. The poor old Tories will manage but one month of the increased allowances. Here’s a real chance for Walsall’s opposition to make a moral stand: so what do we get?

Labour leader Tim Oliver rambles about budgets and balancing and largely concludes that, ideally, everything should be improved but without hurting public feelings, but appears to assent to the idea, qualifying his response with the phrase ‘However, we would have preferred…’, which isn’t exactly setting out much separation between the Labour and Tory position at all. It’s left to poor old Deputy Leader, Sean Coughlan to utter what most of us are thinking, ‘I just think this is the wrong thing to do at this time.’. Respect to Sean for that one. Surely it’s not beyond the withs of the party, should they win, to correct this greedy motion?

It’s hugely hypocritical of the ruling Tory group to preach a mantra of austerity, necessity and prudence at the sick, poor and vulnerable while preparing to award themselves increases in allowances, whilst the majority of us are having to manage on short commons. So close to a very possibly decisive election, those of us hoping for an alternative for Walsall, for some new blood, new ideas and positive thinking are looking to the opposition for a strong message on this, or indeed, any strong message at all from the party expected to win. Sadly, it all looks a bit woolly right now.

Remember, we’re all in this together, kids…

Added 3:00pm 4th January, 2012:

Just prior to this addition, Walsall Central Labour Group have issued a statement on their web site, as follows:

2012-01-04 – Labour to oppose councillors allowances increase

Walsall Labour will vote against any overall increase in the budget for councillors’ allowances when they are presented at next Monday’s full council meeting.

Labour councillors on Walsall council will reject plans to swell annual payments to cabinet members by nearly £16,000 a year.

The recommendation being put forward by the ruling Tory administration comes as councillors learnt of more job losses and more cuts in the government’s funding to Walsall council.

The Leader of the Council’s Labour group, Cllr Tim Oliver said any increase in overall councillors’ allowances is totally ‘unacceptable.’

“At a time when the council are preparing to cut more jobs and our staff are coping with a pay freeze, this move appears at best out of touch and insensitive. There is no question of Walsall Labour supporting this move.”

“It is certainly our view that there are matters which need correcting within Walsall’s councillor allowance scheme. But let us be clear – we believe any corrections should be done within existing budgets. If in control Walsall Labour would look toward a different structure, but any changes made would have to balance themselves out at no extra cost.”

Whilst  welcome this statement and the Labour Group’s opposition to a somewhat crass and insensitive motion, my criticism of the approach still stands. Sean Coughlan was bang on the money. It’s on matters such as this where clear moral advantage can be gained. Interestingly, I’ve had several private messages condemning the motion from the Conservative group too.

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10 Responses to Snouts in the trough

  1. stymaster says:

    It’s hugely hypocritical of the ruling Tory group to preach a mantra of austerity

    Quelle surprise.

  2. Ian says:

    No more than we’ve come to expect from this hypocritical bunch of blood-sucking leeches.

  3. Moggotlover says:

    “You have to pay for the expertise you are employing”, why do they roll out this statement every time, its not like they could find some one to do the same job for less and possibly do a far better job.

  4. Politicians; they are all the same national or local, Labour, Tory or lib Dem. All they care about – with a few honourable exceptions – is filling their boots or using their current positions as a stepping stone to higher ambitions with the appropriate renumeration to match.

    No wonder voter turnout is on the slide, a firing squad is too good for them!

  5. Andy Dennis says:

    As I see it …

    It is a scandal that councillors are even considering increasing their allowances against a background of job and pay cuts and other limitations in council officers’ conditions; not to mention the general economic difficulties faced by much of the electorate. Of course, most people who vote do so according to national party-political preferences, not on the basis that they agree or disagree with the level of councillors’ allowances.

    But what do we pay councillors for? From inside knowledge I appreciate the very hard work undertaken by many councillors in trying to get speedier and more effective services for their constituents. This is very valuable work in the context of a highly centralised and formulaic system of public service provision.

    In more general terms the overall role of the local authority is to oversee a process of compliance with national and European law, regulation, directive and policy. In truth there are very few real political choices available to the Council. This is perhaps why all local authorities, regardless of political persuasion, are so consistently and roundly criticised and why their election promises so unconvincing. Managing council services is mainly a technical process controlled by senior management, that is the chief executive and his directors, and there is no opportunity for voters to change them.

    Changing the political hue of the controlling group seems to have no or negligible effect and, even if change is wanted, it takes so long to happen. At many annual elections it is mathematically impossible to change control, even with “safe” seats overturned, though the opportunity may exist in May 2012. Even so, changing to the opposite of national government has generally proved detrimental to local funding.

    If the Government is serious about giving back control to local people it must decentralise power and increase democracy, partly by reducing the scale of decision-making units. For example, in Walsall the smallest authority “represents” about 250,000 people; in Germany, for example, it is 10-20,000. Britain is among the most centralised of modern democracies. It must also allow for more local control over how funds are used and services delivered and must provide for voters to make more far-reaching changes to the way their local government works (freeing up national government to properly address national issues such as foreign policy, transport networks, tax collection and border control).

    Either way, this issue of councillors’ allowances will arise again in 2013, 2014 and forever more, but at least local people would be able to do something about it. Who knows: we might even come to the view that they are worth their weight in gold.

  6. martin says:

    Mad Mike says “If you look at the rest of the country, our pay is far below the median.” – yes, Mike, but your performance is below the median, so you are getting about what you’re worth, probably more.

    It would be a different matter if Walsall were a thriving, prosperous borough full of happy, healthy citizens in employment with outstanding schools, a vibrant culrural life and excellent infrastructure, but it isn’t, so you don’t deserve any more money.

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