Is it a freeze?
No – it’s a flood
of hidden cash for councillors
Worst Street leader Michael Cooper is being recommended for a bumper pay rise – from £8,070 a year to £13,200.
That’s a 63.5 per-cent increase.
The recommendation comes from the council’s shadowy Independent Remuneration Panel and is on the agenda for tonight’s full council meeting – where it will doubtless be rubber-stamped.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg ...
Whilst in the past, rank and file councillors have enjoyed generous pay rises as well, this time around they apparently get a pay freeze at their current level of £4,400 a year.
But all is not necessarily what it seems.
Whilst Worst Street’s pay is the lowest in Lincolnshire, having taken into account the average basic allowance across the county’s seven councils, the panel considered that the variance “was within an acceptable tolerance.”
Instead, it decided to concentrate most of the review on special responsibility allowances – which have not been increased since 2012 – “to seek to ensure that those who held such positions were fairly compensated for their time, commitment and responsibilities.”
The upshot of this means that although bog standard councillors get a pay freeze, many are still cashing in, as the definition of special responsibility has been stretched to include such things as … attending a committee meeting ...
For instance, the eleven members of the Planning Committee – excluding the Chairman and Vice-Chairman – will get an extra £600 a year.
The eleven licensing hearing panel members will pick up a new allowance of £50 a hearing and with 6-8 meetings a year dealing with at least one hearing at each may look forward to a nice bonus of a few hundred quid.
The Mayor – whose office is seeing a number of economies – ought to be more than pleased with an increase in allowances from £1,344 to £3,300 –around 150%
Opposition group leaders will get a new allowance of £100 a member – excluding the leader of the group.
After setting the leader’s allowance – will be three times the basic allowance – the panel felt the deputy leader’s allowance should be set at 50% of that – from £4,706 to £6,600 … but that there should only be one deputy leader’s allowance paid.
“If the leader felt it necessary to appoint more than one deputy then they should decide whether to split the SRA between those deputies appointed or to nominate one to receive the whole sum of £6,600 with others only receiving the cabinet members’ allowance,” says the report.
“Only” in in this case is an interesting use of word, as that allowance increases from £3,361 to £5,500 – a hike of 33%.
The proposed allowance will take effect retrospectively from 1st April, and if approved will be linked to staff pay awards for four years, and be reviewed in a year.
With no apparent sense of irony, the report concludes: “Members are reminded that they do have the option of personally rescinding any increase in allowance, or any allowance in full, if they wish.”
Cue FX: Wings flapping, pigs oinking.
And equally ironic was the decision not to consider at the outset penalising councillors who failed regularly to attend meetings some just meet the minimum requirement to cling on to office – preferring to reward those who are simply doing the job they got elected for, and calling it a special responsibility.
Judging from the behaviour of some of them, it might surprise you to learn that our Worst Street “servants” are bound by a councillor code of conduct intended “to promote and maintain high standards of behaviour by its members and co-opted members whenever they are acting in their capacity as a member of the authority.”
But that’s on tonight’s agenda as well.
The code is intended to reflect what is known as the Seven Principles of Public Life – defined as selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
Titter ye not.
The code has just been revised – and ironically given recent events – has seen an expansion of the requirements for members to treat others with respect, equality and diversity.
Without comment, we reproduce some of the guidelines from the code which may or may nor strike a chord with readers.
- Members must not place themselves in situations where their honesty and integrity may be questioned, must not behave improperly and must on all occasions avoid the appearance of such behaviour.
- Members must not behave towards others in a way which is violent, threatening, malicious or bullying.
- Members must exhibit (leadership) principles in their own behaviour. They must actively promote and robustly support the principles of leadership, be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs and act in a way that secures or preserves public confidence.
- Members may take account of the views of others, including their political groups, but must reach their own conclusions on the issues before them and act in accordance with those conclusions.
- A Member must not act in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing their office or the council into disrepute. This may include; reducing the public’s confidence in that Member being able to fulfil the role of elected representative.
Broadly speaking, we have two types of councillor – those who do and those who don’t … the latter of which comprise the bulk of the chamber.
Although these guidelines from the code are just the tip of the iceberg, they cover such important things as failure to attend meetings on a regular basis, and censure those members who raise their hands and rubber stamp the orders of their political masters – even if at heart, they disagree with what they are being asked to do.
Another section – and a fairly lengthy one at that – deals with councillors and social media.
Presumably this is to tick all the boxes, otherwise there would be no point in its inclusion given the Luddite stance of almost all Boston councillors towards what has become a vital outlet to share and debate information and opinion – even the code declares that “it is recognised that social media can provide many opportunities for members to engage with the public.”
It’s impossible to produce a reliable figure – but a rule of thumb calculation done for a Local Government Association discussion about councillors and the use of Twitter six years ago calculated that 16% of councillors had a social media account to put them more in touch with their ward members.
That figure is probably now much higher – but even at the old rate would see five Boston borough councillors using Twitter to communicate with their voters.
In reality, we can find just one – Boston’s solitary Labour Councillor Paul Gleeson – although his messages by and large have nothing to do with local issues.
Worse still, the latest news on his local party website is the local candidate’s address for the June 2017 general election.
Is it really the case that nothing important worth sharing for discussion or debate in Boston has happened since then?
And what is Paul Kenny up to these days, having stood as prospective parliamentary candidate at the last three general elections?
If in these delicate political times a general election came at us out of the sun, what are his views apropos Boston?
Not that long ago our local “newspapers” carried letters almost weekly which began “Boston’s Labour councillors say …”
Of course, in those days there were a trio not a solo – but voters are still being sidestepped in terms of communication.
We mentioned last week the call by Worst Street for “expressions of interest” from community groups and individuals to work with it on the Christmas event for 2018.
“The power of willing volunteers was ably demonstrated by last year's festive events, culminating in the Christmas lights switch-on” says an entry on WorstWeb.
“You may not want to run a project, but may be willing to offer your skills and time to help out with plans for Christmas in Boston 2018.
“Or you may be a business wanting to light up your street. Your input could form part of a bigger plan.”
This seems to be a sensible idea – as something that became clear last year was the scale of the task versus the number of people seeking to carry it out, when a relatively small number of people found themselves carrying a lot of weight.
What is clear to almost everyone is that the council is now looking forward and trying to make a big job more manageable, as well as encouraging more people to get involved with events this Christmas.
Instead of one big project, it has defined six smaller areas to be decorated and lit – the Market Place and Christmas Tree, Strait Bargate, Wide Bargate, Bargate End Car Parks, the War Memorial, West Street, the traffic roundabouts – at Boardsides, Tesco’s, Chain bridge, ATS and Spirit of Endeavour, and Wormgate/Pen Street.
This is a follow-on to recommendations to the cabinet of curiosities on 4th April which specifically says: “The Cabinet is not seeking to have a town wide solution from a single group.”
The only people who seem to have a problem with this is a group involved in last year’s project – principally the electricians involved – who now call themselves Christmas in Boston 2018.
The have published an “open letter” to Boston Borough Council signed by “chairman” Andrew Lovelace, who says that the group feels “extremely disappointed and humiliated” by was has happened.
The letter calls for the council to discard recommendations made on 4th April “and allow us to complete the project again this year” and goes on “Following our success, why should we have to apply again, to do what we did last year? We already have the working document from last year. This can be amended quite easily for 2018. We hold over fifteen thousand pounds worth of lights to put up this year. Why are you intending to give this to someone else to light up the town and buy more lights when we have them already?
“This does not make sense.
“This also runs the risk of being seen by the public as a misuse of funding and undermines their confidence in the council.”
The group tells councillors that it proposes to be the main hub for all communication with the council and sets out a number of “terms and conditions.”
These include: “The council have ten thousand pounds set aside for Christmas events for 2018/2019 and 2019 /2020, from the migration funding.
“The full ten thousand pounds is paid directly to Christmas in Boston account as soon as possible, to enable us to plan our volunteer work for Christmas 2018.
“Most of this money (80%) will be spent on lights for Boston, with a 10% set aside for any structural reports or pull testing required, with 10% set aside for the main Christmas tree or community Christmas tree which will be sourced locally supporting local businesses.
“We as a community group are representing all the communities of Boston. We are in the best position to decide as a group, where the money for the lights will be best spent on our town. Together with BMiC (Boston more in common) we are working with all communities as we are inclusive of everyone.”
The “letter” concludes: “We are prepared to work with the council to make our town a better place, lifting the morale for everyone, but we will not be exploited and cast aside.
“We feel sure that the council have more important things to focus on. By stepping aside and allowing our group to take over the lights, you will be able to concentrate on other things for the good of our town.
“In addition, we are a fully sustainable community group. We consist of experts and professionals working together, with full support from the public and local businesses.”
It would take too long to list all the contradictions in a letter that we feel is far more arrogant than appeasing.
It remains to be seen whether Worst Street is prepared to back down and let the tail wag the dog over this issue.
And one matter that needs clarification is: who owns the lights.
The group says that it “holds” more than £15,000 worth of lights, and that to get someone else to take on the task of lighting the town means that they would have to buy more “when we have them already? “
Are they saying that if they don’t get the job that the lights are not available?
Our understanding was that last year’s venture was funded principally by a BTAC-ky grant of £10,000 if the groups raised a similar amount in donations and sponsorship – and that any remaining assets reverted to Boston Borough Council once the project ended.
There’s no Boston Eye next week due to the May Day bank holiday. We’ll be back with again on Monday 14th – but don’t forget we’re always available via e-mail.
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