December 13 2013 Latest news:
Monday, October 7, 2013
Councillors representing people living in north Essex cost taxpayers nearly £3million in allowances and expenses last year.
The figures taken from statements of accounts for the financial year 2012 to 2013 from Tendring and Braintree district councils, Colchester Borough Council (CBC) and Essex County Council (ECC), include basic and special responsibility allowances, as well as travel and subsistence expenses.
Councillors in Tendring and Colchester were both collectively paid around £460,000 respectively while their counterparts at Braintree were awarded a total of just over £400,000. Meanwhile, the 75 councillors at county level were paid an impressive £1.6million.
But does this represent good value for money at a time when local authorities are being asked to tighten their belts?
Colchester borough councillor for West Mersea and ECC cabinet member, John Jowers, certainly thinks so.
He said: “By and large councillors do offer good value for money with all the time and effort they put in.
“It can be a difficult job at times with the difficult decisions we have to make and all the criticism that comes with it because everyone wants to blame the council.
“At the moment, we are struggling to get candidates to stand at council, so the rewards can’t be that attractive.
Mr Jowers, a Conservative, said allowances are determined by an independent body and not a case of “councillors awarding themselves pay rises.”
He added: “If you are a cabinet member it is a full-time job and a hell of a lot of responsibility.
“Essex County Council is a two-and-a-half-billion pound business and many people working in the private sector with an equal level of responsibility, as well as some of our council officers, get paid more.”
Mr Jowers was one of the county councillors with the highest allowances and expenses last year, taking home a total of £52,076.
The ECC member with the biggest remuneration was Peter Martin, who replaced Lord Hanningfield as leader in 2010 but stood down in May. He was paid a total of £67,355. This compares to Suffolk County Council’s leader Mark Bee, who received £43,982.
Current ECC leader and cabinet member for finance, David Finch, was paid allowances and expenses totalling £58,108 last year while current deputy leader Kevin Bentley, a Stanway and Pyefleet representative, received £51,623.
At CBC, the leader of the LibDem group and councillor for Castle ward, Nick Barlow, also defended the current allowances being paid, saying they enable people from all income groups to become councillors.
He said: “Studies have shown that councillors at district level dedicate around 20 hours a week to council business which means they are receiving less than the minimum wage for their work.
“The allowances mean not just wealthy people or those who don’t have to work can consider taking on the role.”
However, some believe it may be time to drastically reduce the number of councillors we have in a bid to make savings.
Leader of Braintree District Council, councillor Graham Butland, recently suggested replacing the current structure of 12 district councils, two unitary councils and the county council in Essex with just two councils – one serving the north of the county and one dealing with the south.
He added: “Essentially, the kind of services people want from their council are regular waste collections, good schools and reliable social and health services, and they don’t really care which council delivers them.
“Moving to two councils would cost a lot initially but after that there would be huge savings in terms of less council staff and property.”