Last night’s Full Council meeting was a long one, some five and a half hours long. Your blogger watched some of it, hindered a little by the inconsistent broadcast of the webcasting service the Council use (We are going to have to have words about that, sooner or later -Ed).
The reason for the long-running was that last night the Council was debating the setting of councillor allowances. Ever one to be topical, Southend Borough Council was following in Parliament’s footsteps.
An independent panel had made a number of recommendations to the Council, including a 5% increase in allowances for cabinet members, a cut for a couple of committee chair allowances, and the withdrawal of Council-funded printers, ink and paper for councillors.
Of those recommendations, only the cut to chair allowances went through.
First thing is first, councillors’ allowances are not a wage. They are an allowance to cover expenses incurred in the course of a councillors duties, and to compensate for the time which those duties take up. And, having seen how good councillors works, when those duties are done properly, diligently, it takes a lot of that person’s time. By and large, our councillors of all parties earn their allowances ten times over. Some don’t, but that is for the electorate to decide.
The 5% increase for cabinet members was, first and foremost, never going to happen. For one thing, none of the cabinet members were prepared to accept it. And quite rightly — council workers will receive only a 1% pay increase, how could any councillor justify receiving more?
It was the amendment of Ron Woodley, leader of the Council, which (Rightly -Ed) put paid to this, backed by all Labour councillors, and so far as I could tell from the webcast, all but one of the councillors present voted not to increase portfolio-holders’ allowance — Councillor James Courtenay being the one exception, to which I will come later.
The second recommendation was that the special allowances given to the chairs of two committees be cut. Those committees were the Standards Committee and the Appeals Committee — the current chairs of those committees being Cllr Kevin Robinson and Cllr Brian Ayling. Cllr Robinson voted for the cut, and his speech is one to be listened to.
Cllt Ayling, though, moved the motion which rejected the proposal, to try and saved his own allowance. He failed. Personally, I think his actions were a disgrace, and I think Cllr Ayling is a disgrace. I do not begrudge giving allowances to councillors, as I have said, but when across the Council belts are being tightened, it seems perverse that this councillor is more concerned about his own allowance than all the pain which the Conservative government is forcing on Southend.
Cllr Ayling is up for re-election in May. I would ask St Luke’s residents whether they think this is the right priority for their councillor to be pursuing?
Finally, we come to printers. I didn’t, before this blew up, know that councillors received printers, paper and ink paid for by the Council. It turns out that the Council’s IT staff are effectively servicing 51 home offices for local councillors, which takes up a significant amount of their time and of local taxpayers’ money.
Councillors on different sides of the chamber got very incensed about this, and I know that Cllr Steven Aylen, the Independent Party Group councillor for Belfairs, has been upset about the proposal to cut this for a while. Cllrs Lamb and Holland, the leader and deputy leader of the Conservative Group also spoke against this.
Again, I have to say that I do not think it right that Southend residents be asked to deal with cuts to vital services, whilst their elected servants receive allowance after allowance. A gravy train it isn’t, but given that councillors will still be able to use printing facilities in the Civic Centre free of charge, this does not seem an unreasonable sacrifice to ask them to make.
I am proud that not a single councillor on the Labour benches voted for the amendment to retain these printers, paper and ink.
Finally, a note must be made about Cllr James Courtenay. Cllr Courtenay, who eagle-eyed readers may remember defeated me in the election in Blenheim park ward back in May, voted against all of the amendments, and to accept the report in full. You might expect me to condemn him for backing the 5% rise to cabinet member allowances, but this was his stated reasoning:
As I did 4 years ago I will vote to accept the recommendation of the panel, without change. To do anything else is to set my own pay. 2/2
— James Courtenay (@JamesCourtenay) July 23, 2015
There is, I think, no shame in losing to an honourable opponent, and I can respect James’ principle here, even if I don’t agree with him on the substance.
So this is how your councillors voted, Southend. I would be tempted to give a more detailed breakdown, later on, of how each councillor voted (It was all done under named-vote -Ed). Perhaps I will. But this morning I am happy and proud of how my party colleagues acquitted themselves on this matter. They have remembered that councillors are servants of local taxpayers, not the other way around.
UPDATE: I forgot to add, that the motion to reject all rises in the “special responsibility allowances”, was a Labour motion, proposed by my own ward councillor, Julian Ware-Lane. The motion, of course, passed, and once again Labour have delivered for the people of Southend.