‘Are your councillors worth their expenses?’

by Stephen Tall on December 5, 2006

So screamed today’s Oxford Mail hoardings hot on the heels of the news that the 48 city councillors’ expenses soared 19%, in 2005-06, to more than £240,000. This is an average of £5,000 each, which – as I earned £4,997 last year – makes me a below-average councillor.

Unlike MPs, there is an economic argument for higher wages for councillors: though there is an abundance of folk wanting to get into Westminster, most parties find it hard to recruit good potential councillors. This suggests the laws of supply and demand are currently skewed.

However, I find myself conflicted. I do not depend on my councillor’s salary to pay my mortgage. I am fortunate to have a full-time job I enjoy which earns me a decent wage from understanding employers. I have many colleagues who do not find themselves in such a position, some of whom devote far more hours to their Council work than I am able to do.

Nor do I wish to earn any more money for being a councillor. Not (in case you were wondering) out of some mis-placed hair-shirt piety – but because I can only justify to myself remaining a councillor while holding down a full-time job precisely because my Council pay is pretty immaterial to me. The moment the money started mattering to me would be the moment I would want to stop being a councillor.

Last time the issue of councillors’ pay came up at Council – in order to approve an increase recommended by an independent body – I excused myself from the vote. I didn’t feel I could approve a pay increase which would personally benefit me while (as the guy in charge of the City Council’s budget) I am seeking to find millions of pounds of savings. But neither did I wish to veto a pay award that, on its own terms, was quite reasonable.