Is it time local councillors were paid more?
Yesterday I spent a good while perusing through Liverpool Council's statement of accounts.
There were a couple of things of interest in there. One thing I noticed was the amount collectively paid to councillors in allowances over the past year ÃÂ£1.2m.
The accounts also give a glimpse into the level of pay rises currently been given out at the council. The number of officials earning between ÃÂ£110,000 and ÃÂ£120,000 more than quadrupled in the year from three to 13.
In total the numbers earning more than ÃÂ£50,000 increased from 420 to 485 (295 of the top earners were teachers - although none earned more than ÃÂ£120,000).
No councillors would make it into this list based on their allowances, the highest "paid" is Liverpool Council leader Warren Bradley who gets the basic allowance of ÃÂ£10,000 plus ÃÂ£23,000 special responsibility allowance as leader.
This evening I then stumbled across a column written by Larry Neild (formally of this parish) about local democracy.
He makes this point:
We used to have democracy in Liverpool, during a time when the councillors we elected as the people's representatives met, at the Town Hall, to make decisions on our behalf. If they took too many unpopular decisions, we had a remedy: we'd chuck them out on election day.
Then there was a bloodless coup and the officers took over. The dawning of the new millennium ushered in a fresh era in which democracy became virtually extinct, not just in Liverpool but in town halls everywhere. In the 21st century version of "democracy", the city is run by a cabinet or executive board, and, once a cabinet member makes a decision, it might as well be set in stone.
As a political correspondent I spend a lot of my time speaking to councillors and despite the collective bill topping ÃÂ£1.2m (there are 90 in Liverpool) I think on the whole they are underpaid.
The basic allowance in Liverpool is ÃÂ£10,000 a year. Members of the ruling executive board get an extra ÃÂ£14,000.
Given what officials earn is there a case for paying councillors more?
If so, an easy way to achieve this would be to reduce the total number, say by a third. Then basic allowances could be increased a third.
I'm not making this point to give councillors more pay for the sheer sake of it. The end result could justify the rise.
Here is my reasoning. If a councillor is doing the job properly it takes up an inordinate amount of time and therefore they don't get paid enough. But not all councillors work as hard as others. Upping the pay would make it more competitive to become a councillor and also attract people who might not otherwise get involved in local democracy.
Many councillors sacrifice career progression to carry out council duties. Some have understanding employers who allow them time off, others don't.
The fact is being a local councillor is now semi-professionalised. But is it time their number was reduced and they were paid more?