Monday, 5 September 2011

Cornwall Council's £28k 'volunteers'

Cornwall Council's Conservative Leader says that the members of the authority's Cabinet should be thought of as volunteers and should not be subject to any formal expectation of how often they need turn up to work despite each taking home more than £28,000 of taxpayers' money.

I wrote to the Leader back in August after I received complaints from a member of the public and a voluntary sector organisation about a particular cabinet member being absent for the whole summer. I asked Cllr Robertson if he could tell me what expectations are placed on cabinet members for their work hours and how much holiday was allowed per year. I also asked him to tell me how much holiday each cabinet member had taken over the last two years.

In his reply, Cllr Robertson said:
"councillors are essentially “volunteers” who receive allowances to compensate them for the time committed and the responsibilities they undertake."
It is certainly true that legally councillors are not employees in the normal sense. But when cabinet members each receive £28,828.91 from the public purse (and the Leader receives £34,660.93), surely we should be setting some sort of expectation on them in terms of the hours or days that they work. The public would certainly expect some sort of monitoring of how their money is being spent.

I used to work for Southwark Council which was, at the time, a joint Lib Dem/Conservative administration. Each of the executive members there had an expectation of full time council work and they booked holiday time like normal employees. It was not forbidden for them to have other jobs, but if they did they received proportionately less in terms of allowances. Cllr Robertson said he thought it would be 'inappropriate' to have such a scheme in Cornwall. If it is felt appropriate in Southwark (and other authorities around the country) to ensure taxpayers' money is spent wisely, why is it not here?

Just to avoid misunderstandings, I do believe that the Council's Cabinet members should be paid a special responsibility allowance and we have an independent remuneration panel which decides on the correct level. The change I want to see is for cabinet roles to be seen in practice (if not legally) as a full time job with expectations of working hours and holiday allowances accordingly.


Stephen Richardson said...

Alex - I believe the same should go for all councillors. The fact is that some - like you - take their role seriously nd put in many more hours than is formally required. I am sure that their are others who do a bare minimum.

If Councillors were paid more and were, in return, expected to work a reccommended number of hours then there would be a lot less controversy over this subject.

SportingDancer said...

I too was a hard-working councillor on Littlehampton Town Council & Arun District Council until 5th May this year. I lost both seats, did not become Mayor of Littlehampton on 19th May & also had to resign from the Larger Local Councils Committee of NALC to which I had been elected. Because of the insistence that the AV Referendum (why didn't they go for PR for Local Govt Elections in England instead?) be held on the same day the Lib Dems suffered carnage & we are now stuck with these Tory "volunteers". I thought a volunteer did something for no monetary rercompense, or am I wrong?