Story by: ANDREW PAPWORTH
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
COUNCILLORS have described their basic allowances as a “barrier” to standing for election - but have agreed not to take any action after last year’s expenses debacle.
A review group set up by Cambridgeshire County Council’s Resources and Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee to look at “barriers to being an effective councillor” agreed that the £7,610 annual amount paid to elected representatives was a “relevant issue”.
However Councillor Steve Count, the chairman of the review group, said members had decided not to reopen the issue after an independent panel recommended in March last year that the basic rate should remain unchanged.
“Although a number of us felt this was typically a barrier, we have just had a review of allowances,” Cllr Count said.
“To reopen that whole issue would just be repeating work already done.”
However he added it was “obviously a major factor when people think about the amount of time they are putting in” - while being careful to stress that councillors were not motivated in any way by financial gain.
An earlier panel in October 2011 had controversially agreed to increase county councillors’ allowances by 25 per cent.
However it was later revealed that the panel should have been appointed by the authority’s Standards Committee, meaning the original recommendations were thrown out and a new panel set up.
The Barriers to Being and Effective Councillor review also agreed to update the county council’s welcome pack to newly-elected representatives, as well as induction training, to give them greater guidance on their new roles.
Hotly debated was the timing of council meetings, which are currently held during the day.
Some argued that this created a barrier because people have to give up work time to attend but Cllr Count said: “There were so many arguments for and against that it wasn’t clear.”
In the end the county council decided to stick with its current arrangement because parish and district councils already meet in the evenings, which would mean a clash for twin-hatters. Meeting later would also eat into councillors’ family time, some said.
However the group did agree to recommend having meetings on one or two fixed days per week to reduce time spent travelling and associated costs.
One suggestion it rejected though was virtual meetings of members by videolink, as members “felt that it was not feasible or productive to consider this issue in any depth at this stage”.