As a Borough Councillor and someone who also works full-time I rarely have time to hold the Conservative-led Warwickshire County Council to account. After all, I expect my own County Councillor to be doing that for me. However I have been so incensed after discovering their devious and crafty methods to increase the allowances paid to members that I have decided to speak out.
The figure that the County Council publicises as being the standard County Councillor Allowance is £8,975. This isn’t a bad figure when you consider that the Council’s constitution notes that there is ‘a voluntary element to the work undertaken by elected members and therefore [the basic allowance] does not set out to fully recompense all work undertaken’. However I can reveal that approximately 87% of County Councillors also receive a Special Responsibilities Allowance (some of up to £22,500 p.a.). On unearthing this figure I did wonder whether an allowance could be described as “special” if nearly 9 in 10 Councillors enjoy one?
Central to my anger is that twenty-eight of these Special Responsibility Allowances can be awarded by political parties directly for being party “spokespersons”. These individuals have no executive function and do not hold ranking positions on any committee. The approximate total cost to the County Council for these spokespersons is £36,000 p.a.
The three political groupings on WCC each have a pot of money to allocate to their Councillors for being spokespeople. The Conservatives have £14,000, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have £11,000 each. There is no formal job description for what these spokespeople do and they are not accountable to the Council.
I don’t want to condemn all of these Special Responsibility Allowances, of course some Councillors have important executive functions or committees to chair and they should be compensated accordingly. However when around 87% of Councillors receive the so-called Special Responsibility Allowance it would seem to undermine the whole system.
From what I can gather, the spokespeople perform no real task other than what they should be doing anyway as Councillors. The chosen Councillors do not have to fulfil any criteria to receive this money and the Council would not fall apart if they were not paid this expensive top-up to their allowance. Every politician is a spokesperson, that’s the whole point of our existence: to speak up for the people we represent.
This crafty and devious method for increasing Councillors’ allowances is a good example of why politicians are generally held in such low regard. At a time when the County Council is cutting bus and library services to the people I represent, they shouldn’t be engineering ways to slip Councillors thousands of pounds. If the County Council is serious about trimming the fat from their operation, distinctly wasteful expenditure like this should be first on the cuts list rather than starting with libraries and buses.
I think with budget-setting on the horizon, the County Council should move quickly to end the “spokesperson” role and use the savings to protect frontline services. I don’t want to engage in hyperbole here, but watching the County Council withdraw my Village’s library funding while discovering they are giving County Councillors a sly bonus for being spokespeople makes my blood boil.