Shock at councillors' attendance records

A RADICAL overhaul of the way local authority members are paid has been called for - after it emerged that a number of councillors in west Suffolk had turned up to fewer meetings than a dead colleague.

A RADICAL overhaul of the way local authority members are paid has been called for - after it emerged that a number of councillors in west Suffolk had turned up to fewer meetings than a dead colleague.

Figures held by St Edmundsbury Borough Council show how many meetings every councillor attends and what their attendance rate is in percentage terms.

Despite his death in January this year, Andrew Varley, who represented Westgate Ward in Bury St Edmunds, has attended more meetings in percentage terms than six of his living colleagues.

This situation has prompted Jim Thorndyke, who has turned up to 72 of his 73 possible council meetings, to call for a new system for paying councillors.

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The idea put forward by Mr Thorndyke involves paying council members only for the meetings they attend, though he added he doubted such a system would be brought in.

He said he felt that once a councillor was elected, they could not be held to account for their attendance at meetings unless they fell foul of the local government rule that councillors must attend one meeting every six months.

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Mr Thorndyke added that such a system might encourage councillors to attend more meetings but he also called for political group leaders to take action against those with poor attendance.

But David Bradbury, who attended fewer meetings in 2005/2006 than the late Mr Varley, said meetings were not an accurate reflection of the work done by council members.

Liberal Democrat Mr Bradbury, who is an IT manager for a major west Suffolk legal firm, said much of his work was done in his ward of Southgate, which he visits by bicycle at least twice a week.

He said many council meetings were held at 4pm, which he was unable to attend due to work commitments, adding he would oppose any moves to change the allowance system that would discriminate against working people or those with family commitments.

In response to the fact he had attended a lower proportion of meetings than a deceased councillor, Mr Bradbury said: “I think they (the two councillors who died in 2005-2006) were retired.”

Adam Whittaker, Conservative member for Haverhill West, had the lowest attendance record for any of the council's living representatives.

Mr Whittaker, who works in Harlow in south west Essex, was unavailable for comment.

Margaret Warwick, the Conservative representative for Hundon, had the third lowest attendance rate of the councillors, excluding the late Geoffrey Rushbrook.

She said the meeting system was not ideal because “it is difficult to juggle” various commitments. But she said changing it would have little affect because everybody's commitments were different.

But Mrs Warwick echoed Mr Bradbury and said much of a councillor's work was done outside of meetings, adding: “We are available at any time for people to speak to or help those who need it.”

Jeff Stevens, joint deputy leader of the council and portfolio holder for performance and organisational development, said: “Attendance at meetings is only one part of the job of being a councillor.

“A huge amount of work goes on in addition to public meetings, not least in a councillor's own ward. Some councillors also attend a large number of meetings with outside bodies, such as partner organisations and regional authorities.”

A decision has been made by the council to remove the attendance rates of deceased councillors from the general list as of this year.

The top five St Edmundsbury Borough Council attenders:

Name Possible meetings Actual meetings Percentage

Lynsey Alexander 2 2 100

Jim Thorndyke 73 72 99

Patrick Hanlon 31 30 97

Gordon Cox 26 25 95

David Nettleton 56 53 95

Andrew Varley 23 15 65

The bottom five St Edmundsbury Borough Council attenders:

Gerry Kiernen 43 27 63

Ann Thomas 27 17 63

Margaret Warwick 60 35 58

David Bradbury 15 8 53

Adam Whittaker 23 10 43

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