Extend councillor recruitment drive, MPs urge

Here’s an article that should get some of my regular readers talking, groaning or seething, depending on their view of elected members.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
10 January, 2013 | By Kaye Wiggins

MPs have called for the LGA’s ‘Be a councillor’ campaign to be extended, warning that too many elected representatives did not reflect their local communities.

The cross-party Communities and Local Government select committee praised the LGA’s campaign in a report about the role of councillors, published on Thursday. The campaign aims to encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds to stand as councillors, in time for the May 2013 local elections.

‘Political row over allowances claim’, see bottom of page

“The Local Government Association deserves credit for its work on the Be a Councillor programme, which is playing an important role in encouraging a wider group of people to stand at local elections”, the report said.

“We would encourage the LGA to expand the programme, under its established branding, to enable it to play a wider role in the promotion of local democracy.”

MPs said it was a “matter of concern” that “the composition of many councils does not reflect that of the communities they serve.”

“It is important to increase the proportion of women, younger people and black and minority ethnic people serving on local authorities”, they said in the report.

The MPs also criticised communities secretary Eric Pickles for his use of terms such as “guided localism” and “muscular localism”, accusing the Department for Communities & Local Government of “an inability to let go of the reins” that was “frustrating and confusing” for councillors.

“We once again urge the government to rein in its interventionist instincts”, it said.

The report also said:

The levels of councillors’ allowances “can be a deterrent to people standing for election”. Councils should be allowed to hand decisions about councillors’ allowances to independent local bodies
Councils should consider providing councillors with officer support to help them to manage their casework
The government should incentivise employers to support employees who were councillors
Councillors should not be blocked from influencing local services that were delivered by external providers
Councils should be allowed to compensate councillors for loss of earnings as part of their allowance
Most councillors were hard-working and committed – but some “do little work and, because theyrepresent safe seats, have little incentive to do more.” Councils should set up measures to deal with councilor under-performance
To read the report, click here

Political row over allowances claim
The committee’s report sparked a political row, after Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps and local government minister Brandon Lewis branded its warning that low allowances could deter would-be councillors and call for councillors to be allowed to be compensated for any loss of earnings that they suffer as a “cynical and sleazy move”. Claiming the cross-party committee’s report had come from “Labour politicians” and pointing to Labour Party rules under which a share of its councillors’ allowances are transferred to the party’s own funds, Mr Shapps said Labour was trying to increase the party’s budget. “Local taxpayers will be shocked to learn that the Labour Party will be quids in from Labour demands for more taxpayers’ money on councillor allowances”, he said.

Mr Lewis added: “Labour are completely out of touch with local taxpayers by calling for higher councillor allowances and defending pensions for councillors.”

However, a spokeswoman for the committee pointed out that the report’s findings and recommendations had been approved by politicians of all parties. Labour MP Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said he was “saddened by the reaction of Brandon Lewis and Grant Shapps who have stoked this negativity and undermined a serious concern of councillors from their own party”.

“Allowances remain low and act as a deterrent for many considering whether to stand for election,” he added. “This is particularly an issue for employed people and those with young families, who lose income when taking time out from work for their councillor duties. The committee therefore called for councils to have the option to have decisions about allowances to be taken out of councillors’ hands and transferred to independent local bodies.

“We also found that people are put off by shallow political point scoring, which makes the response of Mr Lewis and Mr Shapps all the more disappointing.”

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2 thoughts on “Extend councillor recruitment drive, MPs urge

  1. I do agree that many long-term, incumbent councillors, particularly here in the Tory-bound rural wards of South Holland, do not earn their keep. There’s too many off them and they do not have enough to do. They’re basically elected (and re-elected) on a Tory brand slate without much regard to ability or performance. I bet the SHDC leader struggles to find sufficient capabilities to form a competent cabinet (no disrespect, Roger).

    So, whose fault is this? A sheeplike electorate blindly satisfied with the status quo doesn’t help. But the strict political party system also contributes greatly to this electorate apathy and poor member performance. A passive press; no serious political opposition; no dissenting minority groups all add up to the plodding performance we witness now.

    Solution? No easy answers here, but reducing the number of district councillors would certainly do no harm – they would not be missed. More training would also not go amiss. Perhaps if the district level of local government were replaced by a unitary authority; this might do the trick. It would mean additional county councillors representing the district wards with possibly additional compensation, thereby attracting a higher calibre of candidate. But, ultimately, I think, it’s up to the electorate to demand a higher level of representation than the mediocrity that is often in place now.

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    • I don’t think there’s anything unique to South Holland regarding the capabilities of those chosen to serve in cabinet positions and the challenges that presents to leaders. They can only work with the people the electorate have given them!

      Do we want smaller numbers of well qualified people representing us in councils? of course we do. Will we get them under the current system? Of course we won’t. Are county councillors of any better standard? I know what I think. As such, how would a unitary offer any better representation? This is likely to be no more than a case of (reduce) quantity being more important than quality.

      Do we want to ensure the quality of our local representatives by making the remuneration more attractive and therefore more competitive? Unless those local representative have much more responsibility, you will simply end up paying fewer, albeit more capable people, a lot more money, to do no more than is currently done.

      If nothing changed and you suddenly had an influx of highly motivated and competent people filling these positions, but no change in the financial balance between Whitehall and local government, what exactly would be improved and would you even notice I wonder?

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