Councillors cost you £1 million per year
STRUGGLING for a job? Why not run for Central Beds Council, where numerous councillors are taking home pay-packets higher than the national average for their part-time positions.
Of the nine LBO-land representatives at the authority, three trousered more than the £26,244 earned by the average UK full-time worker, with a combination of basic allowances, special responsibility allowances and a range of expenses ensuring these voluntary positions provoke involuntary reactions from the taxpayer.
According to accounts published last week, the total cost of allowances and expenses – which are offered for travel, subsistence, care of dependents, sundries and ICT incurments – paid to Central Beds Councillors and co-opted members came to £1,086,180.71 for the financial year 2011/12.
Topping the bill from LBO territories was Leighton Buzzard North Cllr and Executive Member for Sustainable Services Brian Spurr (£31,170.40), followed by Heath and Reach’s Executive Member for Children’s Services Mark Versallion (£30,820.89) and the Chairman of Development Management Committee, Leighton Buzzard North’s Cllr Alan Shadbolt (£26,788.69).
In a letter to this newspaper, one reader branded the councillors as guilty of “self aggrandisement” and said the payments go far beyond what can be justified as reasonable expenses.
The reader, who asked not to be named for personal reasons, said: “I cannot believe that people who stand for election to the council were so highly paid that before we even get our council services started we have to pay out £1.2 million to maintain their interest in out (sic) affairs and represent us.
“Are they the same councillors that do not answer their phones or respond to Emails when a citizen with a problem tries to contact them?”
“Are we all in this together? You are having a laugh aren’t you?”
However, Cllr Spurr hit back, saying that the demands of meetings, surgeries and additional commitments means he dedicates, on average, four days a week to the role.
He told the LBO: “Being a councillor is a very demanding job and I have to say I think taxpayers are getting tremendous value for money.
“The expenses and allowances are necessary to make the job feasible for talented professionals.
“If I was still working as an engineering consultant I could earn more than twice what I receive as a Central Bedfordshire Councillor.”
The joint lowest LBO claimant was Leighton Buzzard South Cllr Amanda Dodwell, whose basic allowance saw her take home £9,754.16.
Cllr Dodwell doesn’t claim for petrol or other travel/subsistence expenses – she decided to cover these costs herself due to the difficult economic climate – but said the ICT allowance, which totalled £46,702.35 for members in 2011/12 is essential for the increasing computer-based demands of the job.
The mother-of-one, who received £933.48 in ICT allowance last year, told the LBO: “Councillors are working increasingly hard outside of their usual remit of meetings, to answer and address the concerns of constituents – I’d say my total council duties take up well over 35 hours a week.
“In the past, ICT equipment such as computers and mobile phones were provided by the council, but under the new system councillors must provide their own equipment so the ICT allowance goes a long way towards compensating for this.
“That said, the allowance doesn’t cover printers or additional equipment and I’d say I’ve spent more on ICT equipment in the past year than my allowance has enabled me to claim.”
The previous ICT allowance system – whereby each councillor had tailor-made expense policies – was overhauled for the current system in a move the council claimed would save £21,724 a year (although the new scheme has seven less councillors to cater for).
Presently, members are able to claim £87.40 a month to cover the cost of IT equipment, support and consumables, broadband and mobile phone use.
Given the large sums involved, a career as a local councillor may prove an attractive proposition to many of the 2.61 million adults currently out of work according to the latest government figures.
Robert Oxley, Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance believes the allowances and expenses system need a major revamp to cut down what is, for many, an attractive pay packet.
“Sadly there has been a rise in the number of professional politicians at local councils – the increasing pot of taxpayer funded allowances claimed by councillors is a sign of that,” he said.
“No one begrudges the expenses incurred in their civic role but budgets like special responsibility allowances have gotten out of hand at many local authorities.
“With savings to be found councillors should take the lead by freezing their pay or even taking a cut to maintain the moral authority to make necessary spending cuts.”
A CBC spokesperson said the Members’ Allowances Scheme, which was approved by the council in November 2011, has been reviewed by an Independent Remuneration Panel, adding: “As and when Members submit expenses claims, these are checked to ensure that they comply with the terms of the Scheme.”
The full breakdown of LBO councillors take home for 2011/12 is as follows: Brian Spurr (Leighton Buzzard North) £31,170.40; Mark Versallion (Heath and Reach) £30,820.89; Alan Shadbolt (Leighton Buzzard North) £26,788.69; David Bowater (Leighton Buzzard South) £24,732.26; Roy Johnstone (Leighton Buzzard North) £13,055.58; Marion Mustoe (Eaton Bray) £12,450.79; Ray Berry (Leighton Buzzard South) £12,212.87; Nigel Warren (Linslade) £10,687.64; Amanda Dodwell (Leighton Buzzard South) £10,687.64.
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