Peterborough City Councillors’ Allowances and Reduced Workload

07:08 Monday 24th January 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show. BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Let’s kick off .. with a plan to save us hundreds of thousands of pounds, possibly. Councillors are costing Peterborough taxpayers too much money. It’s a claim from the city’s Independent Councillor Forum, ahead of next month’s budget setting. They say there should be fewer councillors, because the Council has outsourced many services and there’s less work to do. Their Leader, Councillor Charles Swift, says by removing the Cabinet system, and taking away Special Responsibility Allowances that some councillors receive would save £250,000 a year. Charlie Swift’s on the phone now. Morning Charlie.
CHARLES SWIFT: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: I’ll just explain to people, because it’s quite complicated, isn’t it? Currently all councillors receive a flat rate allowance of £8,000 a year.
PAUL STAINTON: And some receive a Special Responsibility Allowance, eg Peterborough’s got eight Cabinet Members. They get an extra £14,000 a year. So about twenty two grand a year.
PAUL STAINTON: So why shouldn’t they get paid that then?
CHARLES SWIFT: They also sit on outside authorities, like the Police Authority and the Fire Authority, where they’re getting another £9,000, or the Health Authority. And some of them are raking £30,000 a year in.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. But they’re doing the work for this, aren’t they?
CHARLES SWIFT: Well they’re not doing the work. Let’s be quite frank and open. In a few minutes time you’ve got somebody coming on your Show that’s taking over about 50% of the workload of the Peterborough City Council. That’s outsourcing of the Parks, Recreations, refuse, cleaning of the streets. We’ve got Vivacity taking over the libraries, museums, the art gallery. 90% of the work that was done years ago by the duly elected councillors is now being outsourecd. Manor Drive in a few weeks time with another 600 people. So there’s only about 5% of the work to be done. And we personally feel, and I feel very strongly about it, that whilst we’re asking to make people redundant all over the shop, people on less than about £12,000 and £15,000 a year, the very heart-rending things taking place over the next few months, it’s time we .. you’ve never heard one local authority talk about reducing the size of their Council. They’ve reduced the workload, but not the finance. Now you said a quarter of a million. You could get that to half a million pounds. We’re paying £750,000 to councillors. Well we keep being told we’re all in it together, and if 27 councillors, when I was Leader of the Council years ago, could be building 400 houses a year. You’ve got to look at how Peterborough is now. We’ve got 7,000 people on the housing waiting list. We’ve got no end of problems. We’ve got no school places. So what the hell are we really doing as councillors? All our functions have been taken away from us and yet we’re raking in money for doing nothing.
PAUL STAINTON: Things work very differently within a council now though, from back in your day though don’t they?
CHARLES SWIFT: Of course they work differently, because the Council make no decisions, do they?
PAUL STAINTON: But there’s a Cabinet system, rather then ..
CHARLES SWIFT: Well there is a Cabinet system.
PAUL STAINTON: Just explain how it used to be different, Charlie.
CHARLES SWIFT: But there again, you have a look at the Cabinet system. And let’s be open and honest about it, that’s what we’re saying. Let’s have a clean sheet. Let’s have a look at what we’re actually achieving in the city, and where we stand at the present time. We’re not knocking the city, because we’re like many other local authorities. We’re in one appalling mess. And if I had been the Leader of the Council, and the Government had said you’re going to get £10 million less to do your services, I couldn’t have done any more than what this Leader is doing at the present time. But in other spheres, we’re wasting money left, right and centre. But coming back to the basics that we’re actually talking about, is that councillors now, we had one councillor last year , which you’ve heard me repeat before, attended one meeting in the whole year. They got eight thousand quid for it. We had another Chairman of a Committee got £3,250 for attending two meetings, because there was only two meetings called. And half the meetings are just talking shops, and totally abortive, and could be reduced tomorrow.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you asking councllors though, in all seriousness, to give up their spare time to help run this city, and not get any allowances?
CHARLES SWIFT: Well I’m saying to you, and there are many many of your people listening that do work in the voluntary sector in Alzheimers, MacMillan, and also a school governor, who’s responsible for the school. That’s a hell of a sight more in some respects than what a lot of councillors do, and he gets paid nothing.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s pie in the sky though isn’t it Charlie? It’s not going to happen, this, isn’t it?
CHARLES SWIFT: Well look, if people have got a conscience, if people honestly and sincerely believe that we all ought to be treated as equals, and that we all should be making sacrifices, whether it be pie in the sky or not. It will come about one day, and not in the long too distant future. Because what you are witnessing, what your listeners are listening to, is that local government itself will completely disappear in the next five years.
PAUL STAINTON: Charles, thank you for that. Well let’s find out what you think this morning .. should councillors give up their allowances? Should they do it for the love of the city? It could save us up to half a million pounds. Some pretty big figures here. Basic allowance for 57 Members, £453,000. The Special Responsibility Allowance to the Leader, the Department and the Cabinet, £150,000. £250,000 Special Responsibility Allowances for administration. A lot of money spent on allowances for councillors. Or, if they’re giving up their time, should they be entitled to claim expenses?