The issue of allowances is a tricky one for Councillors to tackle. While on the one hand it's supposed to be a reflection of the commitment in performing their role, on the other, being a Councillor is a matter of public duty and, particularly since the MP expenses mess, the public have looked down on discussion of increases on public expenditure to politicians, whatever their level and whatever their party.
Looking at Will Scobie's speech at Annual Council, he argues that part of the reason why there are fewer young people in the Council is because of the Allowances system. I firmly disagree. There are few young people on the Council because they weren’t elected. There were a number of young candidates in last year’s elections, Labour and Conservative, but only Scobie was elected. Was that the fault of the Allowances system? Of course not. But then again, saying its the public's fault probably wont go down too well on the streets of Westgate.
If we consider the wider point of whether higher Allowances would encourage more people to stand, I don’t agree that Allowances would be that big an incentive. Such is the status of politics in general and the staggering ability of those in it to put the public off that those who choose to come into politics do it not for the motivation of money but because, normally at least, they want to do it for their communities. Money doesn’t come into it.
One idea proposed would double the Basic Allowance to £9000 and cut 20-25 Councillors to fund it. Assuming the 3.5% increase to allowances via EKJIRP is accepted, then the pool available will be £252,728. If you cut 20 Members, it will provide each remaining Member with £7020.22. If 25 are cut, then £8152.52. To reach the magic number of £9000, you have to cut 28 Members, or half the Council.
An interesting side point here is that with so few Councillors resulting from this, a Mayoral system might be more appealing. I daren't wander into that discussion today so will leave that to you to mull over.
Considering the above, the Council would still have to find between £26,000 for a cut of 25 and £71,000 for a cut of 20. In light of the concerns about funding of public services, where would this come from?
If you consider the needs of young people compared to older people, you can understand why there are fewer young Councillors. A young person trying to establish a career or looking for a first job isnt likely to look at politics as anything more serious than a hobby, whilst an older person will be more settled down and will be able to make that commitment easier. Particularly looking at the retired, they will have the experience of life that the public tend to consider above the energy and freshness of a younger person. I'm sure Scobie heard as I did on the campaign trail the comment "You're a bit young, aren't you?". This point obviously came up with the Mayor of Margate job on the blogs.
Yes, there are fewer young Councillors than Scobie and I might want, but this argument of more money for Councillors wont solve it.