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After my back to school experience yesterday, I headed to the civic centre.
I try and take at least one day a month, but often more, annual leave from work to spend time in the Civic centre.
Council politicians, contrary to popular myth are not well paid for the role they undertake; at least not in Harlow. The allowance that councillors receive is a small recompense to cover the time that they spend doing council “work”. Frankly it works out far less than the minimum wage for the time we all put in. But we don’t do it for the money! If I was just interested in money, my full time job would not be in the Health Service, and I certainly wouldn’t spend so much time in public service.
It’s an interesting debate though, If you rely on “volunteers” which is essentially what most councillors are, then you get people who have availability in the evenings and at weekends, which is why so many council meetings are in evenings.
However there is a strong argument to have councillors, even if only the senior ones, as professionals, working in their town halls 9-5 every day. This has the benefit of being there when the officer corp. are, being able to give strategic direction directly, instead of in the evening to the few, or via telephone and email. This happens in some local authorities now, but invariably as its not paid highly, becomes the preserve of those who are retired or have their own means of supporting themselves. Hardly representative of the people. I know I could not afford to make the Civic centre my “day job” without a reasonably pay packet attached.
Businesses are supposed to give time off for council duties, but this can be unpaid and very few “professionals” would risk even asking for this time, for fear of showing a lack of commitment to the job which pays their mortgage. So it comes down to should we pay councillors salaries?
The disadvantage of paying salaries to councillors is that you risk inventing the role of the professional politician, a career path all of its own, with people leaving university and seeking election, before gaining any life skills in the “real world”. I think also that the general public already view the political system as corrupt – “they are all just in it for themselves” is a comment I have heard many times, usually inspired by the misdeeds of just one or two individuals around the country hyped by the national and local media. Very few councillors are “just in it for themselves”
Sometimes I am sure that all councillors wonder, like me, when sitting at a late night meeting of the tedious variety (there are a few) or looking at their annual leave at work and knowing that they wont be able to take a two week summer holiday this year because of the amount of time they have taken to spend in their council role, why they do it at all.
The truth is that most councillors, and in this I include those from all different parties, really do enjoy and want to keep serving their communities.
I know I do.