Thursday, December 07, 2006

Snouts in the Trough

Amusingly, one commenter in response to a local newspaper story about councillors' allowances suggested 'scrapping their allowances and paying them the average oxfordshire wage of 25k' because 'If councillers [sic] had to live on the average wage, they maybe they'd see how painful it is to cough up so much council tax, and the county/city would become a better place'.

The highest allowance for any councillor on the city council was just under £10,800, for the leader. I got £6,400 when I was on the Executive, and even when working full time or doing two other part-time jobs at the same time never earned as much as the average Oxfordshire wage in four years as a councillor.

I therefore think that this proposal of paying the average wage is a brilliant idea, not just for councillors but for MPs as well.

Backbench MPs tend to spend a lot of their time with people who are paid more than they are, people like senior public sector managers, lawyers or businessmen. It's therefore not surprising that they recently chose to do their bit to dispel the myth that politicians are out of touch and in it for the money by suggesting that they should be paid a lot more money. There is a similar process in local government, with some council leaders in London now being paid upwards of £50,000.

The meritocratic argument for this is that it is good for our society to attract able people to become politicians, rather than only the mediocre, and that therefore being a career politician should be regarded as comparable to other careers which talented people might consider in the public or private sectors.

The problem I have with this is that I don't think being a politician is like being a high paid professional. Being a councillor shouldn't be seen as a career, there is particular added value to having councillors who have other jobs which keeps them in touch with people who aren't involved in politics on a day to day basis. It should, though, be for each local area to decide whether they want full-time councillors, whether backbench councillors should be expected to spend an average of 10-15 hours a week on council business or a mixture (one benefit of having this properly debated is that most people don't realise that councillors aren't, at the moment, paid to work full time). As for MPs, they shouldn't see themselves as part of a highly paid governing elite, whose experiences and income are very different from those of the people they represent. The point about 'how painful it is to cough up so much tax' is a widely held one, that whether on pensions, pay rises, 'green taxes' or a range of other issues, MPs have insulated themselves from the consequences of the policies which they support.

I think that the amount that MPs earn should be compared against is the average wage for people in work in London (on the basis that they will, er, be working in London). A similar system could also work for councillors, where their allowances could be based on the average wage in their area. So if someone works an average of one full day a week as a councillor, they should receive an allowance of one-fifth the average wage, plus any other necessary expenses, if they have additional responsibilities which mean they have to work additional hours, their allowance increases accordingly pro rata (for what it's worth, this is more than I got as a councillor).

People shouldn't be prevented from standing for election because they can't afford to do so. But I reckon more people would be likely to identify with their MPs, and even consider that MPs are 'people like them' and that therefore it is something that they might consider doing, if they felt that MPs understood from their own experience the challenges that most people face. It's one of the few examples where you would get more people considering the job and better applicants by reducing the salary.


At 3:13 pm , Anonymous angus said...

Very eloquently expressed. I agree that MPs pay should not get too far out of line with what ordinary people are earning.

At 11:25 pm , Blogger Scrybe said...

and I had heard that you had relocated to liverpool.....


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