Deputation Hampshire County Council Thursday November 20th, 2008

 

Good morning everyone nice to see you all again.

In September, the Isitfair campaign made a submission about councillors’ allowances before the Independent Review Panel.

 

We already knew that the Cabinet of Hampshire County Council would not be seeking an increase in salary and that councillors would accept a rise in line with employees of Hampshire County Council.  I have to say that we were well received by the Paneland that they listened very carefully to everything we had to say.

 

A few weeks later we sat in on a meeting of the Governance Committee who we understood would examine the findings of the Review Panel. 

 

In the past we have said that national politics should not play a part in local government and I still feel that should be the case.  Not so the councillors. Invariably on contentious issues, they split down party lines.  But not this time. Oh no.  There was complete unity between the parties and what I witnessed did them little credit.  The Review Panel stood little chance of surviving the intentional destruction of their thoughts and ideas. It has been suggested on occasion that I might seek election as a councillor, but if this is what happens to ones integrity, I want no part of it.

 

Much of what the Panel had to say included the concerns of our campaign. 

 

The unaccountability of councillors and lack of transparency were among those concerns.

 

We also observed that over the last ten years the cost of councillors in HCC had risen by more than £1 million.

 

Now,

Who runs the council? Is it you? That SHOULD be the case, but unfortunately for us, since this Government decided to force the Cabinet system into local government, 69 of you have been disenfranchised (your Leader’s words not mine).  As one councillor has said, “As far as I am concerned there is no democracy in councils since the cabinet system was introduced. Apart from the chosen few, the rest of us might as well go home until the next election.”

 

Not only are you disenfranchised, but you are much more expensive.

Over the whole of Hampshire (excluding Southampton and Portsmouth) councillors now cost over £5.5 million pounds. Interestingly, the biggest jump was in 2000/2001 when the cabinet system was introduced. You may think this is peanuts, but just imagine how many council tax bills that would pay.

 

On to transparency,

 

In a recent Isitfair survey across the country, 94% said that information about their councillors should be in the public domain and easy to find. They believe that elected representatives need to be transparently open. After all, what have you to hide?

 

One of the other points we made to the IRP was the ability of councillors to make a good living from the public purse without revealing the true extent of that living.  Not just from Hampshire County Council, but all other bodies – other Councils, Police, Fire, SEEDA, etc.,

 

Actually one can’t help wondering how they manage to give the necessary time to each and every one of these functions and, in some cases, have regular employment or run a business.

 

And yet, when we asked our members the question, Do you know what additional positions your councillor holds in your county and district, and whether your councillor sits on more than one council or publicly-funded body, the vast majority of them said no. 

 

Every committee, county wide and nationwide, that councillors sit on should be listed on line, in public libraries etc, so that the electorate can see just what their councillor does.  He/she should also reveal any interests that could possibly conflict with their public office.  MPs have to make this information available to the public, why should councillors be any different? 

 

Perhaps better use could be made of your on line profiles. How long is it since you looked at yours and those of your fellow councillors? Do you think that they are acceptable to the electorate?  What does it say when looking through Councillors’ profiles we find this: little more than name, and party and ‘what do you think of my dodgy photo’.  I suppose that is eight words more than the rest. We, the electorate are being treated with some contempt. 

 

The IRP made reference to earlier aims to make those elected more representative of the population of Hampshire. Now, there are always exceptions to the rule, but I personally do not think that being a councillor is a young persons forte.  The young should be out there, having fun, getting married and having a family and concentrating on earning a living. People who spend their lives in local government and then graduate into national politics, gain little knowledge as to how the other half live.  When they have experience of life - that is the time to put something back into the community.

 

 

We should remember that some councillors receive over £50,000 from the public purse, thus joining over nine hundred other employees of the council.

 

In 1996/7 there were 54 employees being paid £50k or more In 2007/8 there were 916

 

The salary bill for the 54 people was about £3.5 million.

 

The salary bill for the 916  has rocketed to somewhere between £51 million and £61 million.

 

Our collective minds boggle. How can this possibly be justified? I have on previous occasions urged you to stand firm against the unfunded burdens handed down by central government . May I now draw the attention of the Conservative councillors among you to the words of Eric Pickles published earlier this year:

 

"Over the past 10 years Conservative local authorities have cooperated with the government to make the best of ill thought out plans and deliver the best possible results for local residents. Swamped by ever changing government targets, overburdened by red tape and overloaded by regulation we have delivered quality services and low council tax. The time is overdue for Conservative Councils to stand up to this bullying and controlling government on behalf of their communities. It is time for Conservative councils to ‘just say no.’"

 

That is what he said.  I cannot agree with the council tax being “low”, but of course, the paltry and diminishing grants from Central Government make low council tax almost impossible.

 

And lastly, as I have on this occasion kept off the subject of council tax I would like to remind you that the Isitfair campaign for the reform of the council tax system is alive and well, and living in over 80 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales.

 

Thank you for your attention.