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Councillors’ Pay: Throwing money at more of the same just increases the odds of things going from bad to even worse

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

If you feel at all cynical about politicians and their motives for seeking power, you are unlikely to have been left feeling refreshed by the latest row over councillors’ pay which has surfaced this morning. After all, one set of politicians laying out the stall to put more money into the pockets of another is hardly the story that anyone outside of politics wants to hear. But is the promise of higher pay for councillors really the only answer to better local government?

The motives for becoming a politician at any level are not what many would hope or perhaps expect. Whilst the pathway to becoming a member of a local authority may be based upon an entirely different set of aspirations from those who become MP’s, the biggest difference between the two is the full-time and fully remunerated nature of all the roles in Westminster which have propagated and supported the rise of the ‘career politician’.

As a Local Councillor myself, I can look back on my own political history to date and know that it was not money which motivated me to contest my first Borough Election in 2003 and come 5th for a 2-seat Ward. It was not looking good and being seen by others as having responsibility in a public role which drove me to take part in the County Elections of 2005 and experience a recount to finish in 3rd place for a 2-seat Division. But it was a belief in something better for all and the sense of providing a voice for those who choose not or are unable to do so for themselves that did push me to go out each time and then win my first Borough Seat in 2007. Sadly it is not the same for all too many others.

The reality of local government, whether you are Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or Independent, is that it is a place of frustration for the well-intended. A place where the power to influence decision making in its greatest sense simply doesn’t exist – much in the same way that the handful of our better-intentioned MP’s will have discovered to their absolute horror when they first arrived in Parliament.

It is a cold hard fact that within any system of government where so many of the would-be decision makers have arrived on the basis of personal gain and advancement, it is that very same emotional buy-in which propelled them there that prevents them and others from doing anything truly selfless when it has even the slightest risk of making those selfishly-based positions any less secure.

Such fear has propagated the growth of an insidious culture within local government where officers are often left leading the leaders with their own protectionist based views which put jobs, conditions and the limitation of all risks above any decision which actually may be the right one for the Taxpayers who fund them. It is a pathway which over many years has led to the unsustainable cost of direct services that should never have even been put at risk; coupled to a future which above all else is inextricably linked to such wonders as the bottomless pit which is the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Increasing councillors ‘pay’ to ‘realistic levels’, will only encourage more of those with the same self-interest to step forward and to then fight even harder to protect their own interests once elected. Part-time career politicians would quickly become as prevalent throughout the lower tiers of government as their full time counterparts are at Westminster, and it is the very term ‘career’ which in this sense says so very much about what is wrong with politics and where the true motives of many politicians lie today.

Reform at all levels of government should be an absolute priority, but should not be restricted to executive, administrative or technical functions.

The political party system is also failing people as much locally as it is nationally and throwing money at more of the same just increases the odds of things going from bad to even worse.

Labour Council Leaders say Government cuts will lead to public unrest. But the days of passing the buck for a free Pound have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Some Conservative Councillors will quietly sympathise with the difficult decisions being made within almost every local authority in the Country as the result of continuing budget cuts. But that’s precisely where any similarity in view will end with the content tabled in a joint letter to the Observer by the Labour Leaders of Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield Councils, suggesting that cuts in local government grants will break up society.

Look at our Country today and it is easy to see that we are already living within a divided society that is split by divisions which go way beyond simple demographics, political bias or the slashing of public services at just one level of Government.

These are problems that are far more serious than any senior politician on any side seems willing to address in any meaningful way. And the reality is that the demise of local authority structures and the seemingly endless range of services that they were once able to provide are only being accelerated by the ‘age of austerity’, and not caused by it as this document would apparently have us believe.

There is in fact significant irony that local authorities are also the victim of the philosophy and actions of the very movements and people who are so eloquently attempting to place blame on the Coalition Government today, for problems which have actually been a long time in the making within a system which has only been sustainable because of what must have seemed like a guaranteed bottom line to a generation of politicians who believe that idealism can be delivered without any thought for practicalities.

In just one respect alone, I found myself completely horrified when I first learned of the gargantuan percentages of Council Tax which go directly into the gold-plated Local Government Pension Scheme. Similar ideology has been rampant within local government decision making throughout living memory and any commercial business run with such an extraordinary emphasis on funding employees and their benefits would be as viable as its existence within in a competitive market.

I have little doubt that just these funds alone being made available for the purpose which the Taxpayer has the right to expect, coupled with the real reforms that every part of Government now requires, would deliver a significantly positive effect on what is today a very gloomy picture indeed for locally-funded public services.

Government and non-Government organisations of all types have for too long been insulated against the real world realities of profit and loss by protectionist culture; by the political correctness of socialist job creation; and by a guaranteed level of income which has now unceremoniously come to an end.

It’s time that everyone in positions of responsibility within all tiers of Government began being responsible, rather than looking elsewhere and expecting someone else to pick up the pieces or to pay the bills with a non-existent stream of infinite credit.

Political idealism is as ideal as it is practical. Politicians from all sides now have to accept and work with this reality. Otherwise, a new reality will continue to write itself which will go way beyond the fallout from wasting opportunities for change and from a failure to take full responsibility within local government.

The days of passing the buck and expecting a free Pound in return have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences.

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