I already touched on this in my overview of Southend Borough Council’s debate on councillors’ allowances, but there were a few councillors who utterly disgraced themselves over the course of the night.
There was, for instance, the gross spectacle of the Conservative group voting almost en masse to cling onto their taxpayer-funded printer paper and ink, because they didn’t want the aggravation of having to come into the Civic Centre to print. These being the same people happy to close care homes, sack library staff, and inflict the bedroom tax on Southend’s very poorest.
But I expect no more from them. The callous, selfish cruelty they displayed is not a new occurrence.
For me, the most unedifying event of the night was Cllr Brian Ayling, an Independent
Party Group councillor in St Luke’s ward, fighting tooth and nail not for his residents, but for his own “special responsibility allowance” as chair of one the Council’s appeals committees.
Now, Cllr Ayling’s speech on the matter is available online for everyone to watch. It’s rather illuminating as to his priorities, and I quote from it here:
“From a personal point of view, I think the members’ special allowances should stay as they are. Because for some reason, Cllr Stafford and myself are the only ones who have had our allowances cut by a virtual 50%, and I don’t understand it, because that committee we’re on is very important.“
I take issue, though, with Cllr Ayling’s apparent lack of understanding as to why it has been recommended that his allowance be cut. I think that the report is quite clear on the reasoning. It says (emphasis added):
“52. The remuneration, currently £4,336 each, of the Chairs of the Appeals Committees A & B is unusual as equivalent committees elsewhere are often chaired by an executive Member or the workload is so infrequent that an SRA is not merited. Both Committees in Southend meet as and when required but their respective workloads are…not always as constant as with other committees with a total of 4 hearings last year.
So, on other councils there is not usually an allowance attached to the appeals committees, because they simply do not meet very often. In Southend, last year each of the two Appeals committees met only four times. This means that Cllr Brian Ayling and Cllr Mike Stafford (IND – Thorpe) received £1,084 for each meeting they chaired.
Cllr Ayling is right, I would hope, that the Appeals committees are important, as if they are not then they should be abolished. But the allowance for a member of the cabinet is £10,840.90. In the interests of balance, I asked Cllr Anne Jones (LAB – Kursaal) how many meetings she attends as executive councillor for Children & Learning. She laughed. More than four meetings a year, let’s say.
So Cllr Ayling thinks his chairing is of such calibre that it warrants £4k a meeting. Having seen him in action, I respectfully disagree.
Cllr Ayling’s amendment failed, but not for want of trying. I do hope that residents of St Luke’s take heed that whilst the government is slashing their council budgets for fun, their councillor is trying cling onto his piece of the pie.
Cllr Ayling should be ashamed. I am fairly sure he’s not. But he should also remember that he faces the electorate in May.