On 7th December 2016, my colleague Andy Kelly and I led the opposition to a plan by the controlling Residents’ Associations and Lib Dems group to increase councillors’ allowances by 12%. Here is the text of my speech:
“Madam Mayor, I am delighted to second Cllr Kelly’s proposed amendment.
When I saw that the present proposal to increase the basic allowance by 12% had been endorsed by the current Cabinet. I knew immediately that if I voted myself a 12% increase when this Council’s loyal employees had only been offered 2% I would not be able to look any Council officer in the face again.
Now some might say that’s my problem, and with my own particular circumstances in mind of course it is. But all members here tonight ought to reflect very carefully on how this is likely to look to our superb workforce.
Since the financial crisis erupted in 2008, we have asked our staff to make significant sacrifices. In order to make the savings imposed on this council by the reduction and eventual termination of the revenue support grant we have for many years imposed either a wage freeze or allowed increases below the prevailing RPI figures. Both of which amount to real-terms wage cuts. We have reduced their work areas in size so that we can raise revenue by sub-letting part of this building. All of these measures were necessary, and our staff have carried on providing us with a first class service throughout these changes.
So before you cast your vote tonight, think about how you comfortable you will feel next time you need to deal with a busy planning officer, a hard pressed housing benefit officer dealing with the ramifications of Universal Credit – or any other member of our staff from the cleaners to the senior management team. If you decide to help yourselves to the 12% bounty, how do you think that will go down.
And then ask yourselves this. How many people living in Elmbridge on an ordinary wage will be getting a 12% increase this year? Or anything remotely approaching such a salary hike? How do you think this will play in the media? For those on the benches opposite: is this the reason you decided to form an administration? Is this the legacy you want to leave?
Now we have been told tonight that:
It’s the recommendation of an independent panel: of course it is. But their job is not to take the responsibility of what is at the end a political decision: that responsibility is ours, this is what the people of Elmbridge have elected us to decide.
Elmbridge’s allowances are on the low side compared to other Surrey boroughs. Are they? Good. I would be far more worried if we were near the top of the table rather than the bottom.
It will deter good people from coming forward to stand: No it won’t. Being a councillor is about public service, and the allowance is meant to compensate us for loss of income or additional expenditure incurred. It is not and never has been a salary. And I have not seen the quality of candidates dropping in my time here.
There are fewer of us now and our workload is increasing. Perhaps so. But I will make 2 points. When John O’Reilly first proposed reducing councillor numbers, there were some murmurings from the benches opposite about whether we would push up allowances afterwards. We promised you that we would not. Is it not now ironic that, only 6 months into their new administration, it is the leading members opposite who are now pushing forward this grab on the public purse. Secondly, we may be working harder but so are our staff – there are fewer employees than when I was first elected and they have not been offered anything like the increase we are being invited to take.
Madam Mayor, colleagues – tonight we have a stark choice. We can do the right thing and choose an option that actually reduces the total cost of paid politicians to the Elmbridge taxpayer. Or we can help ourselves from the public purse and reinforce every stereotype that there is about elected representatives only being in it for themselves. Let us show our electorate – cynical though they may well be about politicians – that we can rise above the temptation of personal gain. Think about this Council’s reputation. I urge you all to support this amendment.”
No Conservative voted for the increases. All of the Liberal Democrat group, without exception, helped themselves. Apart from the honourable exceptions of Cllrs Popham and Heaney, who abstained (as did the Mayor and Deputy Mayor), all the Residents’ Associations councillors grabbed the money.
Think about that, next time you have the chance to vote. Only Conservatives refused to put their snouts in the trough.