Sunday, 3 June 2012

More Money, More Young People?

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.


Will Scobie said...

I like the analysis James, and it sums up well why we don't have councillors from more diverse backgrounds.

My argument at Council was that we need to get people from different backgrounds involved, because currently we have some groups over-represented and others under-represented. Allowances are something that can help with this but are clearly not the only answer. For example members of Kent County Council receive a substantial allowance but they have the same problems as Thanet Council (perhaps even worse!)

I think this is something we need to have a frank discussion about and I am fully prepared to say that my idea might not be the right one. However that doesn't mean I am not going to keep arguing it. This is something that I think scrutiny should look at when and if we get more resources or have a smaller work load.

By the way I think I was quite lucky on the doorstep last year by the sounds of it. I only ever had people saying how good it was to see a young person getting involved and how it made a nice change.

Anonymous said...

Some councillors make a decent income by serving on both KCC and their local council. £40K plus to be a KCC cabinet member. How they find the time to do both I do not know since many local councillors complain of the heavy workload. Maybe Will can tell us just how much time it takes.cAnd some of Kent's 12 district leaders, on about £25,000 also serve on KCC with additional allowances above the basic £13,000.
Kent does seem to have some councillors that are in it for the gravy.

It is also very noticable that most of KCC's 84 councillors are male and over 60.

Anonymous said...

halving councilors, increasing allowances and ending doublehatters sounds ideal. How though will excessive civil service salaries be reviewed: 100-200k more than Prime Minister?

Jon said...

James, we identified this problem some years ago when I was a parish councillor. We encouraged one youngish man - a school teacher - to stand and he served for about a year. He then resigned because of lack of time to do his job and support his young family. So back to the drawing board. It is a fact that older people, and retired people, have more time. The experience in life`s university is useful as well.

Anonymous said...

the existing allowances do make it more likely though that they will be a pension topup, and a range of ages etc are required and some of our pensioners experience doesn't seem worth having

Cllr. Neil Hornus said...

Firstly I think we need to discuss what we consider old and young. At times I feel like Dennis from Holy Grail (I guess that 33 is considered old these days).

However when it comes to this point of trying to increase the number of younger people on the council Jon 19:20 is absolutely right.

For most young people they find themselves either with a career or a family (or perhaps both) and simply won't have the time to commit to the role of a councillor.

Increasing the allowances would not solve this problem at all as it would still in most cases be below the salary being earned, or the childcare payments that would be needed. The only way forward is to either raise the allowances to compete with salaries, and make the councillor job full time (although Kent have not had a lot of success yet in recruiting younger members) or go the other way and increase the number of councillors, reducing the allowance and time commitments needed (although this will obviously have many other affects).

finally we are in trouble of moving this argument too far in a single direction. We need to be careful of just talking about young(er) people and having a discussion about the general make up of the council from all areas. Where do councillors come from? Is the council really a cross section of the people that it is responsible for?

I guess for most people the reason they do not want to get involved with council politics is simply the view they have on the type of politics that takes place and the people involved (and several news stories from all parties recently have not helped this). If we are going to alter the makeup of the council to be more diverse we have to first look at the way we operate and make the council somewhere where people want to get involved, and feel that they can make a difference.

Anonymous said...

The political parties could impose quotas. Increased allowances would balance the need of work etc. There are already far too many councillors, doing far too little so reducing them by half is a good idea.

Ending doublehatters is a simple saving.

Clearly the quality of them is terrible, and the civil servants given TDC is one of the worst in Britain, and they need to consider what exactly they are doing.

Will Scobie said...

Neil, I agree with what you say, though I don't like the idea of increasing the number of Councillors. My focus has been on encouraging younger people onto the Council, however I have also tried to make the discussion more about getting a balance of people from all areas. Glad that we agree on the importance of this point.

I believe that our aim should always be to chase a model of representative democracy whereby our representatives more closely match the make up of our society. It is one of those aims that is almost impossible to reach but we can keep trying to achieve it none the less.

One point that James made has given me food for thought, and that is about the role of political parties in this whole affair. The Council can only do so much and political parties in fact control who their candidates are and where they stand. Local political parties need to take on more responsibility to ensure a diversity of candidates are selected in winnable seats or else there will always be a bias.

Anonymous said...

full time salaries/councillors would mean more representatives like cameron or clegg or miliband without any experience of life outside of college and party head office and safe seats.

Politicking in effect becomes a civil service job.

Especially with the usual very low turnouts.

Other councils arent incompetent or corrupt - why is TDC?

Anonymous said...

0119. Can't imagine who else you might be inferring when you talk about career politicians.
"I believe that our aim should always be to chase a model of representative democracy whereby our representatives more closely match the make up of our society.". So we can expect a rash of young single mothers and the like from Labour at the next election?

Anonymous said...

0526 none other than thse mentioned. we have politicians that have no life experience other than politics which is neither how its meant to be nor a good thing.

i'd go further and say that a public sector emphasis is a bad thing too.

thanet has pensioners who are party faithful and almost no other voices who seem to be both bickering and occupying every seat possible.

and unusually several family members in the same party. again undemocratic. clearly this is unrepresentative and hasnt worked as thanet is one of the worst councils.

the key point is what are their policies?

Anonymous said...

Will was the only person who actually knocked on my door during the last council elections which is why i voted for him,if younger councillors are needed then they need to do the same,get out there and connect with the electorate and votes will come.

Anonymous said...

what were/are his policies?