Leaders blast Lewis over councillor pensions

Pensions for elected members or not is not the issue here. The barefaced arrogance of this 5 year politician is. He has no qualification to be in his job, other than success at the ballot box, just like elected councillors. Yet he is telling those councillors, with exactly qualification as an MP, they have no right to

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

7 January, 2013 | By Mark Smulian

Most council leaders have rejected government plans to ban councillors from joining the Local Government Pension Scheme, an exclusive LGC survey indicates.

More than half of 105 respondents said they disagreed with the proposal, our poll reveals. Local government minister Brandon Lewis suggested councillors should be stripped of the right to join the scheme in a consultation paper last month.

The idea has already met with strong opposition from prominent Conservative councillors. And LGC’s survey found that 53.3% of leaders thought councillors should remain eligible for scheme membership.

Respondents were particularly annoyed by Mr Lewis’ claim that while councillors should see themselves as volunteers rather than professional politicians, there was an expectation that being an elected mayor was a full-time job.

Almost 70% of leaders rejected this distinction while almost 60% disagreed that councillors were not full-time politicians.

Anyone who thought metropolitan leaders do “less work than – for example – the elected mayor of Doncaster must live on a differed planet to that inhabited by normal people,” one said. Another noted: “The position of mayor probably requires less work as the power of decision lies completely with one person.”

“Any leader worth their salt not only has to direct political direction but work very closely with group members at the same time.”

The most popular alternative to barring councillors but allowing elected mayors to remain scheme members was to ban both councillors and elected mayors from the LGPS, with 17.1% backing this approach. Meanwhile, 14.3% thought only leaders and cabinet members should remain eligible.

LGC’s survey also indicated anger towards Mr Lewis. One respondent, identifying themselves as a member of “one of the coalition parties”, accused Mr Lewis of “scandalous political opportunism on the part of the government, nasty, vindictive and anti-local government”.

Many respondents said their roles’ demands made it impossible to also take up pensionable employment.

“I was a project manager for an international credit card company and there is no way I could have continued in that role,” one said.

A metropolitan leader said anyone who considered the role as part-time was “detached from reality”. A unitary leader said they were “losing money through having to give up my regular job”.

Several also predicted that excluding councillors from the pension scheme would deter new candidates from coming forward.

Last week, Gary Porter, LGA Conservative group leader, told LGC he would ask Mr Lewis to row back on the proposal. “I’ve received a large amount of lobbying on this from Conservative councillors to resist the idea,” he added. “I expect to be putting it to Brandon and [communities minister] Eric [Pickles] that they shouldn’t make savings in this area.”

Councillors have been able to join the LGPS since 2003. According to the Taxpayers’ Alliance some 4,548 were members of it in 2010-11.

Councillors barred from pension scheme

This should please many of those who see elected members as surplus to requirements and wish to consign them to local government history as a failed experiment in democracy.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
19 December, 2012 | By Dan Drillsma-Milgrom

Councillors are to be barred from being members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), local government minister Brandon Lewis has announced.

In a written ministerial statement made on Wednesday morning, Mr Lewis said that councillors would not be able to join the scheme after April 2014 and that councillors who are already members would not be able to accrue any further benefits after that date.

Mr Lewis said the government “did not believe that taxpayer-funded pensions are justified”.

“Councillors are volunteers undertaking public service; they are not and should be employees of the council dependent on the municipal payroll. They are not professional, full-time politicians, nor should they be encouraged to become so.”

However, the statement revealed that elected mayors would not be barred from LGPS membership in recognition of the “greater expectation than an elected mayor is a full-time position”. The government will consult on allowing elected mayors to remain in the scheme “as a voluntary option (but not as an expectation)”.

The salaries of Police and Crime Commissioners, the Mayor of London and London Assembly Members will also remain pensionable.

Mr Lewis admitted that his department did not hold records on councillors’ participation in the scheme. However, he said that “initial rough estimates suggest that this could save £7m a year in taxpayers’ money”. He said there was “absolutely no case” for increasing councillor allowances to compensate for the move.

Councillors have been able to join the LGPS since 2003. The Councillors’ Commission report found that by 2004, 912 councillors had joined the scheme. However, research from the Taxpayers’ Alliance found that number had grown to 3,527 in 2007-08 and 4,548 by 2010-11.

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Roger | 19-Dec-2012 12:55 pm
Another good example of different politicians in the same government department looking in completely different directions on an issue. One the one hand we have this statement, that members are volunteers and not to be considered or encouraged to be full time ’employees’ of the council. Then you have Eric Pickles telling elected members that they can fill the gap and replace officers culled under hiis ‘modest’ local government funding cuts. Do these people actually talk to each other?
If these sort of petty almost spiteful statements don’t deter the younger members of our communities from becoming councillors in the future, then I’m sure DCLG have more up their sleeves to do the job!

Labour trying to cash in on Forces good name?

As an ex-serviceman with 38 years service in the RAF, I am of course a service pensioner.  I was therefore very interested to read about the issue of service pension cuts being raised at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool.  Apparently, Labour delegates are very concerned that ex-service personnel are suffering a drop in their pensions because of the government’s decision to change the way rises in benefits are calculated.  The switch from RPI to CPI means that anybody receiving an index linked benefit, such as a public pension, will effectively be taking a cut in income year on year.

I of course have a vested interest in this subject and would be very pleased to see the link with the RPI restored.  However, why has Labour waited until their party conference to make a fuss about this?

Also, why is it only service pensions that they are so concerned about?  What about all the other public servants who are now, or soon will be, on a pension and are receiving a year on year cut in what may be their only source of income?

Could it be that the Labour Party is cynically seeking to cash in on the current high regard the military is enjoying in the public’s eye?  If there were no servicemen and women returning from Afganistan dead, or suffering from horrific and life changing injuries, would this item of even been discussed at the conference, let alone appeared on an agenda?

Media needs to pick the right target

In today’s Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Booker is taking a swipe at rising levels of public pay, bonuses and benefits, in these times of public sector austerity. He is of course right to be seriously concerned on behalf of the public. It cannot be right that, whilst everything else in the public sector is shrinking, the wealth of those at the highest levels continue to inflate.

However, targeting those benefitting from a corrupted remuneration system, is hardly going to achieve the desired outcome – the wholesale realignment of public sector pay. The present system has evolved over many years of negotiation between recruitment bodies, unions and even individuals seeking senior positions. Much of this negotiation, especially involving unions, has been based on claims that public sector workers are poorly paid, because they have greater job security and receive earlier pensions than those in the private sector. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, and this is where Christopher Booker is right to voice his concerns. Public sector pay has not just caught up, it has, especially at the more senior levels, surpassed the private sector, whilst all other benefits have stayed the same. It is this increasing disparity between the public and private sectors that is creating the current media outrage.

There is also one group that tends to be overlooked when it comes to responsibility for pay inflation – local government elected members. I myself have sat through more than a few debates and subsequent votes on decisions related to the chief executive’s next pay rise. Invariably discussions always focussed on how we needed to pay at least the going rate, having taken soundings from what was called our family group. This family group was based on councils of the same type and size as ours and was supposed to ensure that we didn’t loose a good CX, because we were not paying the going rate. The problem with this approach, is that it automatically builds in inflation which is then made worse by members often unfounded concerns at the possibility of loosing the devil they know. Also, somebody will often throw in a comment about the high cost of seeking a replacement for a senior management post and Bob’s your uncle, you’ve added 5 or even 10% to the cost of employing your chief executive.

Some councils have attempted to justify pay inflation within it’s senior management team, by introducing performance related bonuses. This farcical approach is also widespread across Whitehall and only adds to the outrage felt by those in the private sector, when reading reports such as Christopher Booker’s. If you can’t measure somebody’s performance against a well understood outcome such as profit, you’re stumbling around in the dark, basing your decision on personality and not performance and inviting the sort of pay inflation now common across the public sector.

A credit card non-story and easy street for MPs

Two stories have caught my attention this week. The first one strikes me as something of a non-story once you scratch the surface and is about the amount government depts spend on credit cards. The very terms credit card and government seems to cause Daily Telegraph reports to break out in a hot flush and grab for the nearest keyboard.

Putting aside the claims of 5 star hotel rooms and Michelin star restaurant meals and you see that the majority of the spending is on legitimate items. Using a credit as opposed to the incredibly bureaucratic and expensive claims system I remember from my military days, can only be seen as an improvement. Despite its bureaucracy, that system was open to wide spread abuse, something that is much less likely with a credit card.

The other story that caught my attention is the ongoing storm surrounding public sector pensions. Apparently public sector workers are going to have to pay a lot more in to their pension scheme in order to maintain the levels of payout currently enjoyed. The list of those affected included, doctors, teachers, civil servants and no doubt just about every other public sector worker who gets their pay from the public purse. However, there appears to be one notable exception – Members of Parliament – what a surprise!