Thursday, 22 November 2012

We’ve been taking a look at the background which led to the decision by Boston Borough Council to increase allowances for its top twenty post holders by 20% over just two years.
Interestingly, a questionnaire sent to all 32 councillors elicited responses from 65.6% of them, or 21, or … just about the same number as are set to benefit from the pay hike!
A word that cropped up was “stress.”
One claim was that a cabinet post exposed a councillor to “demands” which are not compatible with any other roles within the council, and a portfolio holder’s allowance should reflect the stress of managing a portfolio.
We not persuaded by this argument.
On the evidence from their own mouths, some of our portfolio holders are clearly out of touch – other than in the broadest terms – with the tasks for which they are responsible.
They are probably stressed because they have bitten off more than they can chew.
If the increased allowances could by some miraculous process transform the recipients so that they could do the job better rather than just taking more money for it, the money would be well spent.
Interestingly, we spotted a neat hidden rise within the stonking increase approved on Monday.
The resolution was: “That all special responsibility allowances be increased by 20% over a two year period and that an annual increase for inflation based on the consumer price index be applied for each of those years.”
So we are looking at the addition of at least 2% on top of the ten per-cent proposed over the next two years.
At the heart of all this, we are told, is the ambition to bring the special responsibility allowances in line with increases in the basic allowance “and be sufficient as to not financially disadvantage an average working person from standing for council and taking on positions which attract additional responsibility.”
At a rough guess, around half of Boston borough councillors are retired, and the reason for this is that retirees are people with time on their hands who are  more willing to do the job.
Having said that, a look at the list of serving members shows one or two that are now clearly past their sell-by date – and if the true intention is to provide the best possible level of service, there ought to be some in-house tidying before the next election.
To us, there seems absolutely no possibility that an “average working person” will ever be likely to find an employer with such a high regard for his local council as to be give the full amount of time off necessary to do the job properly if – as the responses in the questionnaire claim – they are working between eight and eighty hours a week already … and that is just for recipients of the basic allowance.
Another argument trotted out to justify increasing special responsibility payments is to fall  in line with other district councils in Lincolnshire.
No two of our seven district councils are the same – and Boston Borough is far and away the smallest of them. Just because a larger authority may pay more does not automatically justify an increase for the smaller one.
Council Leader Pete Bedford's feeble justification for a jumbo pay rise was heard on BBC Radio on Tuesday.
“Boston is way the lowest,with no increase for six years.
“Everybody has walked away from this issue, and I’m afraid that its time it has to be addressed.
Why now?
One of the very first things that new newly-elected Conservative group “addressed” after last May’s elections was to award themselves a pay rise of 85.03% over three years.
Now this latest big award for the council elite gives them another 20 per-cent plus.
One thing that almost everyone agrees on is that was not the time to address such an issue.
But as the Tories have already begin behaving as though they expect to lose control of the council after the elections in May 2015, the “timing” of the rises ensures that they leave the council better off than when they came in.
So much for the concept of public service.
The leadership at Boston would do far better to start a campaign to make people want to become councillors for the right reasons.
At present, Boston Borough Council has a rotten and secretive image – largely due to its leadership – and public interest in what it does must surely be at an all-time low.
Change that, and other benefits might surely follow.

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