Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Members remuneration (pay!) speech

My speech on members remuneration: rejects a 9% increase but make the point that we should base councillors expense on need. Points out that some people are excluded from being councillors because of the level of the allowance. Seemed to get jeered by some Labour councillors, goodness only knows why.

There are two basic reasons for supporting the recommendations of the member’s remuneration panel.

First off, it the panel is independent. As a rule, we as councillors should not seek to politically interfere with its suggestions. That is what it is for. As an aside, I wonder why we are even in the position where we end up taking a decision we clearly wish to avoid.

Second, the allowance for a councillor at the moment is sufficiently low at the moment that it – as a sole income – prevents a significant proportion of the population from being councillors at all. This is, therefore, an act of overt discrimination, an act of overt bias in favour of the wealthy. You can only be a councillor if you can afford the time, you don’t need the money, or you have another form of income. You can therefore argue that making a significant increase to the allowance of a councillor seeks to address this - particularly when you take into account the number of hours that many councillors work.

The problem – of course – is the fact that councillors are in the privileged position of being able to award themselves a pay increase.  The panel can recommend, but we are the ones who vote. And here we are – at a time when local government is under attack like never before, and facing the prospect of further deep, and utterly unacceptable cuts. Hundreds of people at Bristol City Council have lost or will lose their livelihoods. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people in this City have suffered or will suffer as a result of loss of services or benefits.

At this time – can we seriously expect to both vote for a £100k increase in total expenditure on councillors and – at the same time – vote for a 9% increase in the basic councillor allowance?

The answer has to be no. And that doesn’t even begin to address the proposed increase for the mayor.

I do not have a strong view for or against most of the other proposals contained in the report. They are based on multiples of allowances as a way of defining the merit of a particular role.

If ‘I ruled the world’, I would take a different approach. One based on need. I would be asking myself if councillors with no outside source of income should be considered in a different way to those who have such an income. Greens want all people to earn at least a living wage as a fruit of their labours. This counts for agency cleaners and shop workers but it also includes councillors

Clearly, I do not rule the world. And in this world, had the total increase in allowance been similar to the pay rise that local government staff are receiving – with the levels of allowance being adjusted accordingly – I suspect this report would be adopted almost without discussion.

Assuming other party groups also reject this report, I suspect the solution to this lies in recommendation 14 which states:

RECOMMENDATION 14: That in the event that the Council does not accept the Panel’s recommended level of Basic Allowance, the values of special responsibility allowances be adjusted to the present or alternative Basic Allowance, using the same multipliers.

I suggest that the recommendations are adopted, but with a basic allowance set at or slightly higher than the current level, but as thing stand will vote against this report..