Sunday, December 11, 2011

Paying Leicester's politicians

[Later. BBC News reports that Lady Alison Soulsby, Sir Peter's wife, has died after a short illness -  a reminder that many things are more important than party politics I have changed the title of this post in the light of this news.]

We are all familiar with the nonsensical idea that laws should be passed to "send a message". But Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester's elected Mayor, has come up with a variant on it: the city should send a message by paying him a very large salary.

The Leicester Mercury reports the representations that Soulsby, his deputy Rory Palmer and other Labour councillors made to the independent pay panel have now been released. The paper says that Sir Peter told the panel that the salary for the post of city mayor should reflect its "symbolic importance".

And it goes on:
In his meeting, Sir Peter said his role was very different to that of the former leader in terms of public expectation. 
He also noted that while an MP had significant influence an elected mayor had more direct power. He said he worked up to 70 hours each week. 
Deputy city mayor Councillor Palmer said he saw his role was "unique" and similar to that of a chief of staff linking the mayor to council officers. 
He told the panel that if any politicians were recognised as having full-time roles – which he says his role is – they should also be entitled to severance pay when they quit.
You can read more about this saga on the blog of Ross Willmott, chair of the city's scrutiny committee and, it is fair to say, not Sir Peter's closest friend.

In the words of the Mercury:
Former council leader and fellow Labour politician Ross Willmott used his personal website yesterday to criticise the stance of the mayor and deputy mayor on the pay issue. He said: "It is clear that both the mayor and deputy were arguing for considerable increases. "So the amount of surprise when the panel's findings were released does now look rather strange." Sir Peter hit back, saying: "I haven't read any of his silly, obsessive blog posts for many months. Ross hasn't got over the fact that he didn't get selected as Labour candidate for mayor, and his stream of obsessive blogging shows that.
The latest news, again courtesy of Ross Willmott, is that Soulsby has now said he is now not seeking an allowance of £100,000.

He has also sacked the independent panel, which suggests that it is not as independent as all that.

Back to the original Mercury post, which quotes a Labour councillor as telling the panel:
"I am now working full-time in a role which involves a lot of responsibility, analysis and judgement for less than minimum wage." 
She told the Mercury yesterday: "I don't want loads of money, just enough to manage on."
But should you expect being a councillor to provide you with a living wage? I have never thought so.

1 comment:

Charlieman said...

Peter Soulsby has publicly stated that he is back at work, so I think that it is fair to comment on the basis of "business as usual".

I have a philosophical problem with the proposed pay increases. From the Leicester Mercury: "Deputy city mayor Councillor Palmer said he saw his [whose?] role was "unique" and similar to that of a chief of staff linking the mayor to council officers." This is a restatement of the Soulsby group's position that the city of Leicester now has a combined executive and legislature.

Of course, nobody asked Leicester citizens whether they wanted to combine elected mayor (and buddies) with chief executive (and senior officers). But that is what was carved out a few months ago.

The salary of £110,000 or so for mayor may be justified owing to the managerial and administrative responsibilities that go with the newly reinvented position. And it is cheaper than paying for a chief exec and a council leader. Somehow, I doubt that it is democratic or in the long term interests of Leicester. I am dismayed that unions representing council staff have failed to challenge the conflict of interest.

The city of Leicester needs a chief exec to ensure that things happen. The city of Leicester needs an elected mayor or traditional council to make decisions. Two separate roles, two different pay packets.

Jonathan asks: "But should you expect being a councillor to provide you with a living wage?" For the majority of councillors, the response is a no-brainer: No. However it has become the norm that council committee chairs (even those who are not substitute executive officers) spend a lot of time in formal meetings. The reality is that we have had full time councillors for at least 30 years.

What to do about it? Firstly, the Labour party and trade unions have to acknowledge that what is happening in Leicester is wrong. After that, the city council, legislature and executive, have to reform it so that becoming a councillor is not a (near) full time job. If my elected mayor must be Peter Soulsby, I'd prefer it that he was thinking abstractly rather than acting as a micro manager.

Think about community politics afresh. Community politics is not about doing things for people but changing systems so that people can achieve for themselves.